LANCASTER – A sheriff’s sergeant responding to a residential burglary call was shot and fatally wounded Wednesday near an apartment complex in Lancaster, and a parolee was taken into custody about 90 minutes later and hospitalized with a gunshot wound.
Sgt. Steve Owen, 53, was gunned down about 12:30 p.m. in the 3200 block of West Avenue J-7 and died at a hospital, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Owen, a married father of two grown children, was a 29-year department veteran who had been promoted to sergeant five years ago.
Owen received a Meritorious Conduct Medal in 2014, along with five of his Lancaster Station colleagues, for their roles in a pursuit and standoff situation involving a series of armed gang members.
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris told the Los Angeles Times that Owen, who had worked in the Antelope Valley for more than 20 years, had been shot in the face.
A deputy who was injured — but not shot — apparently when the suspect tried to commandeer the fallen sergeant’s patrol car, was also taken to a hospital, according to the sheriff’s department. The deputy’s name was not released.
Sheriff’s SWAT deputies were involved in the search for the suspect, who sustained a gunshot wound to the upper body and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. His name was not immediately released.
No other suspects were being sought, according to the sheriff’s department.
“We were fortunate in being able to find his wife, who is an Arson- Explosives (Detail) detective in our department, and get her to the hospital … before Steve succumbed,” sheriff’s Executive Officer Neal Tyler told reporters.
Owen’s son and daughter, as well his mother, were also at his bedside, Tyler said.
“The tragedy of a deputy sheriff such as Sergeant Steve Owen making the ultimate sacrifice has a massive impact on the whole law enforcement family,” according to a statement from Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who was cutting short a trip to Hawaii because of the death.
“We all mourn together and our hearts go out especially to Steve’s immediate family Tania (his wife), his two adult sons Brandon and Chad, a stepdaughter Shannon and his mother Millie.”
The killing was the first of an active-duty department member since June 24, 2005, when Deputy Jerry Ortiz, 35, was gunned down by a gang member as he conducted a shooting investigation in Hawaiian Gardens.
The gunman, then 27-year-old Jose Luis Orozco, was found guilty of first- degree murder with the special circumstances of murder of a police officer and possession of a firearm by a felon and was sentenced to death.
Capt. Steven Katz of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said Owen responded shortly after noon to a residential burglary call.
“While they were containing that location, gunfire was heard from the rear of the location where the burglary was occurring and emergency radio traffic was immediately dispatched,” Katz said.
“The deputy at the front of the apartment complex ran … in the direction of that gunfire, where he found Sgt. Owen suffering from a gunshot wound. The suspect fled from that area and the deputy gave chase on foot.”
The suspect then ran to the front of the location and attempted to commandeer the sergeant’s patrol car, prompting a deputy to open fire, Katz said.
“The suspect placed that car into reverse and rammed the second radio car at the location,” Katz said. “A second deputy-involved-shooting occurred at that time. The suspect fled from that vehicle on foot.”
It’s unclear if Owen was able to fire any shots at the suspect, Katz said.
A large cordon was established to contain the suspect, who entered another home where two teen children were inside, Katz said.
The teens “were ultimately able to inform law enforcement of the presence of the suspect at that location.” Katz said, adding that a firearm was recovered.
During the suspect search, officials at Antelope Valley College — which is a few blocks south of the shooting scene — advised students and staff to “shelter in place” and several area schools, including Lancaster High School, were placed on lockdown.
County Supervisor Mike Antonovich called Owen “an outstanding law enforcement professional who I had the opportunity to know and work with.”
“He was a husband and father who was respected by his colleagues and engaged in his community. He was senselessly murdered while responding to a call for help,” Antonovich said. “His loss leaves a significant void for all who knew him.”
Supervisor Hilda Solis, the board’s chair, also issued a condolence message and said county flags would be flown at half-staff for one week.
Owen’s community involvement included youth activities, Tyler said.
The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs issued a statement saying its members will be grieving the loss of their well-respected colleague.
“Los Angeles County deputy sheriffs put their lives at risk every time the put on the uniform,” according to the union. “This horrible tragedy is another reminder of the dangers and sacrifice law enforcement personnel face protecting the county’s citizens and businesses.”
Parris, who went to the hospital to keep vigil with Owen’s family, issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon saying he was “completely outraged by the cowardly act which took place today.”
“Antelope Valley hero, Sergeant Steve Owen, represents the epitome of excellence in law enforcement,” Parris wrote.
“Sergeant Owen has served our community for more than 20 years, earning such honors as the Meritorious Conduct Medal, which speaks to his dedication to fulfilling his duties in making the Antelope Valley a safer place.”
Shunnon Thomas, president of the Antelope Valley branch of the NAACP, also offered condolences to Owens’ family.
“It is a great loss for the department and the people of the Antelope Valley,” he said.
Gov. Jerry Brown also sent his condolences and said flags in the state Capitol would be flown at half-staff.
“A courageous and decorated hero risked his life for the last time today,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
A vigil was held for Owen Wednesday night at the Lancaster Station.
Katz called it “a very dark day” for the sheriff’s department.
“We’re all suffering right now,” Katz said while noting that Owen was involved in the sheriff’s mounted enforcement unit and was a field supervisor “It doesn’t get worse than this.”
Editor’s note: Story has been extensively updated to include additional details and comments from government officials, community and city leaders.