The suspect accused of shooting and killing two Palm Springs officers when they responded to a call over the weekend is expected to be charged with murder on Wednesday.
A news conference announcing the charges against 26-year-old John Felix is set to begin at 11 a.m., according to a news release from the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
The DA’s office is weighing whether to pursue the death penalty in the case, District Attorney Michael Helstrin said.
“I consider the brutal murder of a police officer to be a very heinous crime, so I will leave it at that,” he told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday.
Felix is accused of fatally shooting Palm Springs officers Jose “Gil” Vega, a 35-year veteran due to retire this year, and Lesley Zerebny, who joined the department recently and had just returned to work after giving birth four months ago.
Vega, 63, and Zerebny, 27, were among four officers who responded to a disturbance call about 12:10 p.m. Saturday at a residence in the 2700 block of North Cypress Road.
Police were trying to get a man to step out of the home when he opened fire on them through a closed front door, hitting three of the officers, the Palm Springs Police Department said in a news release.
Vega and Zerebny were rushed to a hospital where they were pronounced dead.
A third officer was also struck by the gunfire, and is recovering from non-life-threatening injuries, the release stated.
Felix, who initially refused to surrender, exchanged gunfire with officers and barricaded himself inside the home, according to police.
He was taken into custody following a 12-hour standoff involving multiple law enforcement agencies.
The Riverside Sheriff’s department SWAT team had arrived at the scene after 5 p.m., according to Ray Wood, a chief deputy with the department. He said for several hours they attempted to contact the barricaded suspect.
When that failed, the SWAT team “deployed chemical agents into the residence,” Wood said.
“Almost immediately after introducing chemical agents inside the residence, the suspect emerged out the back door … when he emerged he was wearing soft body armor and he had a number of high capacity magazines on his person,” he said.
The suspect has a criminal past and was previously sentenced to four years in prison in connection with a failed gang murder plot back in 2009, the Desert Sun reported.
Felix had also been forcibly arrested in 2013 at the same house where Saturday’s shooting occurred, according to the newspaper.
“He is not foreign to the justice system,” Riverside County Assistant Sheriff Joe Cleary said of the suspect’s record.
While charges were set to be filed against Felix, preparations are being made for the slain officers’ memorial services as the community continued to mourn the pair.
The service is scheduled for Oct. 18 at 11 a.m. at the Palm Springs Convention Center located at 277 N. Avenida Caballeros, according to the Police Department.
Graveside honors for Vega will immediately follow at the Coachella Valley Public Cemetery at 82925 Avenue 52 in Coachella.
The funeral for Zerebny, which also will include graveside honors, is scheduled to take place at a private location and will only be open to family members.
Vega, a father of eight, had served as a police officer for 35 years. He had filed paperwork to retire in December, but continued to pick up overtime shifts, including the one he worked Saturday, Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes.
“Here he is, 35 years in, still pushing a patrol car for our community to make it better,” Reyes said. “On a day he wasn’t even designed to work.”
Zerebny had joined the department last year and was described by the police chief as a “wonderful, young, dedicated” officer.
She had just returned to duty following maternity leave. Zerebny leaves behind her husband, who is a deputy with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office, and a 4-month-old daughter.
Reyes tearfully described watching Zerebny’s husband give her a kiss goodbye on her forehead for the last time.
He said officers are grieving the two slain officers, and need prayers.
“I have two officers that are now looking down on us from above, and our police department is now walking in the footsteps of two additional heroes,” the chief said Sunday. “My employees are broken.”