LANCASTER – The parolee accused of killing a sheriff’s sergeant in Lancaster first wounded the lawman and then executed him with four additional shots once he was down, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said Thursday.
Sgt. Steve Owen, 53, was gunned down around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday as he and a deputy responded to a 911 call from a woman reporting a burglary at an apartment building in the 3200 block of West Avenue J-7.
The man suspected of killing Owen — Trenton Trevon Lovell, 27, of Lancaster — was wounded in a shoulder by a deputy but ultimately arrested and booked on suspicion of murder. He was being held without bail at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility.
McDonnell said at a news conference Thursday at the Lancaster Station that Lovell — whose name the sheriff refused to utter — has been arrested 11 times, first as a juvenile on suspicion of selling marijuana, and was jailed or imprisoned twice.
He shot Owen behind a residence after being confronted by the sergeant, who radioed that he had the suspect at gunpoint before he was shot, McDonnell said.
“Sgt. Owen approached the suspect in response to a burglary call,” McDonnell said. “The suspect immediately shot Sgt. Owen. He then stood over and executed Sgt. Owen by firing four additional rounds into his body. He then unsuccessfully searched the body for the sergeant’s weapon with the intent to use it to murder the first responding deputy.”
That deputy fired numerous times at Lovell, who had pointed his weapon at him, striking the suspect once in the shoulder, the sheriff said.
“Not only did the suspect want to kill our deputies, he held two teenagers hostage in a neighboring house until they were rescued by the heroic efforts of our Special Enforcement Bureau and our Lancaster Station personnel. He was subsequently arrested in the surrounding neighborhood without further incident.”
While answering a reporter’s question, McDonnell took issue with legislation allowing some criminals to cycle through the justice system, repeatedly ending up back in communities to offend once again.
“I think it’s time that we had a serious conversation,” he said. “We all believe in second chances and a chance for redemption and that’s what America is all about, but there are a limited number of chances where somebody doesn’t get a free pass to continue to do this type of … violence that we see over and over again in so many different cases.”
McDonnell called on the public to carefully consider any proposed legislation regarding the incarceration of convicted criminals.
He also said if Lovell is found guilty of murdering Owen, the death penalty would be appropriate.
That was the sentence given to then-27-year-old gang member Jose Luis Orozco, the last man who killed a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy. He 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 for fatally shooting Deputy Jerry Ortiz, 35, on June 24, 2005, as Ortiz conducted a shooting investigation in Hawaiian Gardens.
After Owen was shot, the first responding deputy, who was at the front of the apartment complex, ran toward the gunfire and found the wounded sergeant, Sheriff’s Capt. Steve Katz said on Wednesday.
“The suspect fled from that area and the deputy gave chase on foot,” Katz said.
The gunman then ran to the front of the location and attempted to commandeer the sergeant’s patrol car, ramming a deputy’s cruiser in the process.
The deputy opened fire and Lovell fled on foot.
A large cordon was established to contain the suspect, who entered another home, where there were two teenagers, Katz said.
The teens “were ultimately able to inform law enforcement of the presence of the suspect at that location,” Katz said, and an immediate rescue plan was put into effect.
A sheriff’s SWAT team entered the home to save the teens while the suspect left through a rear door. “Less than lethal” devices were deployed to prevent the suspect from re-entering the home, said Deputy Juanita Navarro-Suarez.
The gunman continued to try to escape and attempted to climb over a wall, but he was confronted by deputies and taken into custody, Navarro-Suarez said, adding that a firearm was recovered at the scene.
Owen was taken to a hospital, where he later died.
“We were fortunate in being able to find his wife, who is an Arson- Explosives detective in our department, and get her to the hospital … before Steve succumbed,” sheriff’s Executive Officer Neal Tyler told reporters.
One of Owen’s adult sons and his stepdaughter, as well his mother, also were at his bedside, Tyler said.
McDonnell, who cut short a trip to a conference in Hawaii to return to the Southland following Owen’s death, met earlier with Owen’s family and began Thursday’s news conference by paying tribute to the sergeant.
“Today we mourn the loss of a man who made a difference — to his family, to his fellow deputies and his community,” he said.
Owen received a Meritorious Conduct Medal in 2014, along with five of his Lancaster Station colleagues, for their roles in a pursuit and carjacking situation that ended with deputies using Tasers to capture an armed suspect and rescue the carjacked motorist.
According to court records cited by the Los Angeles Times, Lovell’s criminal past includes a 2009 conviction for robbing a USC community safety officer at gunpoint. He was sentenced to six years in prison and was on parole for that offense at the time of Wednesday’s shooting.
Lovell pleaded no contest in 2008 to resisting arrest and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, The Times reported. He pleaded no contest in September 2015 to DUI causing injury, and was ordered to enroll in a drug and alcohol counseling program and complete a first-offender program.
A memorial of candles, flowers, balloons, and condolence cards continued to grow outside the Lancaster Station, where deputies were back at work while coping with the death of their long-time colleague, a 29-year department veteran who had been promoted to sergeant five years ago.
One man told the Los Angeles Times he was there to offer prayers for Owen, who had arrested him several years ago, but who had since counseled him and was a father figure to him.
“This guy, when I was in trouble, kept me straight,” Bishop Vaughn said.
The county Board of Supervisors requested flags at all county buildings to remain lowered at half-staff in memory of Owen, whose body was taken Thursday from the county coroner’s facility in Boyle Heights to a mortuary in Lancaster.
A procession of dozens of law enforcement vehicles accompanied the hearse along the route.
On Wednesday, McDonnell offered a statement of condolence to Owen’s family.
“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,” McDonnell said.
Previous related story: Sheriff’s sergeant slain in Lancaster