A gun battle erupted during an undercover drug operation involving marijuana at a south Phoenix home Wednesday night, killing one Chandler police officer and wounding two others.
During a crowded press conference inside Chandler City Council chambers on Thursday, Chandler Police Chief Sherry Kiyler announced that Officer Carlos Ledesma, who was in his third year with the city, died in the shootout.
Ledesma, 34, was married with two children, according to Kiyler. Sgt. Joe Favazzo, a Chandler police spokesman, described him as a dedicated officer who had a passion for the job.
“Words truly cannot express the grief that we feel today,” Kiyler said of the tragedy. “We are truly grateful for the overwhelming support from the Valley, the state and our nation. The events of last night are a grim reminder of the challenges that are faced by our law enforcement officers, and as we mourn our loss and the loss for our community, we renew our pledge to safeguard the freedom and security of our citizens. We will work through incredible challenges in the coming days ahead.”
Sgt. Steve Martos, a Phoenix police spokesman, said that two suspects who were believed to be firing at the officers were killed at the scene. Six suspects connected to the crime, ages 25 to 40, were arrested and were being booked into a Maricopa County jail. It is believed that everyone involved in the incident have been arrested, Martos said.
Because of the undercover nature of their work and the ongoing investigation, Kiyler said the names of the other two officers will not be released, citing safety issues for them and their families.
One of the injured officers was released from St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix early Thursday, and the other wounded officer remains in critical but stable condition, according to Shawn Hancock, president of the Chandler Law Enforcement Association, the union representing sworn officers.
The deceased officer worked undercover full time, Hancock said.
“Even when his wife arrived (at the hospital), she said, ‘He died doing what he loved and serving the community,’ ” Hancock said.
Authorities say Ledesma was pronounced dead at the hospital.
TV news helicopters showed the three officers being taken out of the home near South 23rd Avenue and Vineyard Road on stretchers about 7 p.m. Wednesday. Dozens of officers from Chandler, Phoenix and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office converged on the hospital to show support.
Police did not disclose what triggered the shootout.
The Chandler officer’s death marks the third on-duty death of a Valley police officer this year.
In January, Gilbert Police Lt. Eric Shuhandler was shot near Baseline Road and Val Vista Drive while making a vehicle stop on a car that had an obstructed license plate. The getaway driver, Daimen Irizarry, 30, was found guilty just last week of charges connected to Shuhandler’s death. The passenger in Irizarry’s vehicle, Christopher Redondo, 35, is set to go on trial next year. His charges include first-degree murder, aggravated assault and drive-by shooting. He is facing the death penalty and his trial is scheduled to begin in 2011.
Phoenix police officer Travis Murphy was shot and killed in May while investigating a suspicious vehicle. Danny Ledezma Martinez, 30, faces charges of first-degree murder and weapons violations in connection with the case.
There have been 45 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty since 1994, with just slightly more than 45 percent of them — 21 — being shot, according to information from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
The remaining 24 officers were killed in automobile accidents or were beaten to death.
Nearly half of those prosecuted for shooting and killing Arizona officers since 1994 had prior felony convictions or outstanding warrants.
Ledesma’s death marked the first time a Chandler police officer died in the line of duty in more than eight years, according to information from the Chandler Police Department. Officer Robert Joseph Nielsen died on June 12, 2002, as a result of a traffic collision at Chandler Boulevard and Pennington while en route to a call for service at another accident scene.
On April 16, 1999, Officer James Robert Snedigar was the last Chandler officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty. On April 16, 1999, Snedigar was shot and killed in an attempt to apprehend armed robbery suspects who were holed up inside a large apartment complex. Snedigar had volunteered to be the point man (the first officer in the door) for the Chandler Special Assignment (SWAT) Unit’s attempt to apprehend the suspects.
Jami Smith of Chandler was inside the adjoining library doing some work Thursday, but attended the press conference.
Smith, a native of Washington state, said she comes from a law enforcement family and has five relatives who serve in law enforcement, including her father, a former sheriff’s deputy in Everett, Wash. who helped start the Ocean Shores (Wash.) Police Department.
“I wanted to show my support,” Smith said. “This can happen anywhere. I understand how this can affect a family.”
Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn, who also spoke during the press conference said, “This is a very difficult day for the community of Chandler and the police department. These dreadful events remind us they are protecting us, unfortunately sometimes at a dreadful price. These officers did their job to the utmost, and we’re hopeful for a speedy recovery of the other two officers. May God continue to bless them and their families.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contributions for fallen Chandler police officer Carlos Ledesma are being accepted at any branch of Wells Fargo Bank. Information: Detective Tami Gray at (480) 782-4341 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Kathleen Smart at (480) 782-4121 or email@example.com.