(SANTA MARIA, Calif.) — A California police officer about to be arrested by his partner and best friend pulled a gun and began firing wildly in what some experts believe was an act of suicide by cop.
Officer Alberto Covarrubias, 29, was shot dead Saturday by his partner Officer Matt Kline, who had been the best man at Covarrubias’ wedding just three weeks ago.
Kline and other officers moved in to arrest Covarrubias for allegedly having sex with a teenage girl who was a member of the Police Explorers, a group of teens interested in law enforcement.
When his partner showed up to take him into custody, Covarrubias pulled his weapon and fired a few shots at no clear target, police said. Kline returned fire, killing his partner.
“Events unfolded very rapidly,” Santa Maria Police Chief Danny Macagni said at a press conference Saturday. “It was very clear to the investigators that he knew what was going to happen.”
Rebecca Stincelli, who has researched police shootings for 26 years, told ABC News, “It is suicide by cop, even if it was a split-second decision to die.”
“It’s a panicked, knee-jerk reaction,” Stincelli said. “His career was over. If they’re not a cop, then who are they? This is someone who has had authority [and] power and suddenly they’re without it. It is suicide by cop.”
Stincelli said officers shooting one of their own is extremely rare, but that 10 to 12 percent of all officer-involved shootings are suicide by cop.
“Cops are used to making split-second decisions. That was his,” she said.
Covarrubias, who had been an officer for four years, was working a DUI checkpoint early Saturday morning.
The Santa Maria Times reported that a lieutenant at the checkpoint told all of the officers, including Covarrubias, that the teenage girl who was on duty at the checkpoint would be removed that night because she was part of an investigation.
When an adult came to pick up the girl, Covarrubias reportedly panicked and began sending her text messages.
“He started texting stuff like ‘I’m not going to jail’ and ‘I’d rather kill myself’ and that type of stuff,” a retired officer familiar with the case told the newspaper on the condition of anonymity.
When Kline showed up to take him into custody, Covarrubias pulled his weapon and began firing, prompting Kline to fire.
Some law enforcement experts are questioning why Covarrubias was arrested publicly and while on duty.
“It’s the worst thing on earth to apprehend an officer when he or she is on the job,” Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said. “In my eyes, it was an error of judgment.”
Haberfeld said there is no uniform protocol for apprehending police officers who are accused of a crime, but she’d like to see one.
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