Eyewitness to Visalia officer-involved shooting describes what he saw


The officer who was shot in the shoulder was released from the hospital Thursday. The other is still in serious condition but is said to be in good spirits following a successful surgery.

Police officials say the suspect who shot the officers, is also still at the hospital. Officers say he's active gang member with a criminal past.

Visalia police say 25-year-old Luis Avilez immediately shot at three officers when he came face to face with them in the house on Stover Street. Two of them were hit and sent to the hospital. The third officer was unharmed. Officers arrested Avilez and 18-year-old Phillip Marquez, who was initially with Avilez when the incident first started. Marquez had an outstanding warrant on an unrelated crime. The police department says the suspects are active gang members.

Visalia Chief of Police Colleen Mestas said, "Once this investigation continues I think we'll be able to adequately depict the type of gang involvement that both of these suspects are obviously involved in."

Chief Mestas says officer-involved shootings and other crimes involving the assault of officers are up, in fact this is the third officer-involved shooting so far this year.

Also, the same day the officers were shot, two other officers had their cars rammed into by an auto theft suspect trying to escape. These pictures provided to us by police, show the damage.

With an increase in these types of crimes and now with the two injured officers off the streets, Chief Mestas is looking into whether her department needs to hire more staff.

Chief Mestas explained, "And if we have to close some units in order to put more patrol officers out, if this is the type of violence that obviously in the last six months is happening here we're going to try and pre-plan for it."

On Stover Street, medical gloves and band-aid wrappers still lay on the front yard where the two officers were shot. Police say the two men are in their thirties and have been with the police department for eight years.

One witness to the shooting says he can still picture the frightening look one of the officer's face after he was shot.

Witness: "You could see he was scared his eyes were wide open, screaming and yelling looking everywhere for someone."

That witness actually recorded the whole incident on his phone but the video was seized by the sheriff's office for their investigation into what happened.

As for the injured officer still at the hospital, he has a long recovery ahead of him. The chief says both officers are expected to be off work for at least another month.

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