Last week, an off-duty police deputy and an innocent bystander were shot by an unknown assailant near Petco Park in downtown San Diego. The assailant reportedly approached the deputy, who was with a group of other off-duty law enforcement officers, while displaying a firearm. A confrontation between the two men turned into a struggle. The firearm was discharged four times – hitting the off-duty deputy in the shoulder three times and an innocent bystander in the arm once. None of the injuries were life-threatening. Police have not released information about why the assailant to approached the off-duty deputy or if the two men knew each other. The gunman remains at-large and the shooting is under investigation.
Regardless of the reasons for the confrontation and struggle, the assailant will face criminal consequences for shooting an off-duty deputy. The severity of the charges he faces, however, may depend on those reasons. Given the details provided in the news report, the assailant could potentially be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, attempted robbery, or even attempted murder.
In California, it is a crime to use a firearm to commit an assault or battery. An assault is the attempt and present ability to commit a violent act against another person using force that is likely to cause great bodily injury to another person. When a firearm is used to commit that assault, the charges may be aggravated to assault with a deadly weapon. Pointing and/or discharging a gun at another person is generally enough to aggravate a charge of simple assault. While the victim does not have to be harmed for an assault to occur, the fact that the victim does suffer great bodily harm can be used as evidence of the crime.
Assault with a deadly weapon is a wobbler in California, which means that the crime can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. If the San Diego gunman is charged with assault with a firearm the severity of the charge will depend on the circumstances of the crime and his criminal history. Misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon is punishable by summary probation, 6 months to 1 year in jail, and/or fines of up to $1,000. Felony assault with a deadly weapon is punishable by formal probation, 2-4 years in California state prison, and/or fines of up to $10,000.
Crimes committed against law enforcement officers who are engaged in their official duties can face more severe penalties. However, since the deputy was off-duty at the time of the shooting it is unlikely that the gunman in this instance will face aggravated charges for assaulting a peace officer. A conviction will, however, count as a “strike” for the purposes of California’s Three Strikes Law.
It is also a crime to commit a robbery or attempt to commit a robbery. The details about why the gunman approached the off-duty deputy are unclear. However, the fact that the altercation took place around 1 o’clock in the morning may indicate that the gunman intended to rob the off-duty deputy. In California, a robbery occurs when you take the personal property of another person through the use of force or threat of force. The charge is aggravated if a firearm is used. If the gunman in this case was unsuccessful in taking any of the deputy’s property he could still face charges for attempted armed robbery and/or assault with a firearm.
When he is caught, the gunman in the late-night Petco Park shooting will face criminal consequences for his actions. The severity of those consequences, however, will depend on why he approached the off-duty deputy and what he intended to do. If the gunman had, at any point, had the intent to kill the deputy during the struggle, he could also face charges of attempted murder. Regardless of which crimes he is eventually charged, it is unlikely that he will escape this situation without spending a few years behind bars. It will be important for him to hire a skilled San Diego criminal defense attorney to ensure that his legal rights are protected and that he is given the opportunity to defend himself against any charges he may face.