A fugitive died at a hospital after allegedly ambushing El Paso County sheriff’s deputies with an AR-15 rifle on Tuesday in the Montana Vista desert, officials said.
Mauricio Hernandez, 31, died at University Medical Center of El Paso after being shot in a shootout with the SWAT officers late Tuesday night, sheriff’s officials said Wednesday.
Hernandez was on El Paso’s most-wanted fugitives list and was sought on five warrants, officials said. No officers were injured in the six-hour confrontation.
“This was a very dangerous situation for our officers, especially with that ambush. We are very lucky we didn’t lose any officers,” Sheriff Richard Wiles said at news conference at the Downtown jail.
The shooting occurred before the El Paso County stay-at-home order, intended to fight the spread of COVID-19, went into effect at midnight.
The shootout took place in the desert of Ascension Street and Greg Drive near Mountain View High School, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said.
Sheriff’s Cmdr. Ryan Urrutia, who oversees patrol operations and the SWAT team, said Hernandez was shot when he allegedly fired at SWAT officers and a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter.
The incident began about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday when deputies on anti-burglary surveillance spotted Hernandez at his home in the 1500 block of Gwendolyn Drive, Urrutia said. Deputies knew Hernandez was wanted.
When Hernandez left his home, a patrol car attempted to stop him for a traffic violation but he drove into the desert off Ascension Street near Mountain View High School.
Deputies broke off the pursuit as Hernandez fled into the desert but continued to look for him, Urrutia said.
About an hour later, deputies found Hernandez’s vehicle parked in the desert, Urrutia said.
As deputies approached the empty vehicle, Hernandez was hiding in the brush and “opened fire on them, they took cover and he fled further into the desert,” Urrutia said.
Later, a DPS helicopter spotted Hernandez in the desert allegedly setting up at “a second ambush point,” Urrutia said.
Deputies surrounded the area. The sheriff’s special weapons and tactics team and crisis negotiators arrived as well as members of the Border Patrol Special Operations Group, constables and Texas DPS troopers.
The standoff stretched into Tuesday night. Negotiators were attempting to talk to Hernandez when he shot at the helicopter and SWAT officers and Border Patrol agents, who returned fire, hitting him, Urrutia said.
Hernandez was taken to UMC, where he died Tuesday night. His death was not announced until Wednesday after his family was notified, Wiles said.
The El Paso shootout was mentioned in a tweet by Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.
CLEAT is a statewide police union and Wilkison regularly tweets each officer-involved shooting in Texas handled by CLEAT lawyers.
The Montana Vista shooting is being handled on behalf of the deputies involved by CLEAT attorney Karen Dykes.
As standard procedure, police union lawyers represent officers involved in shootings while the incident is investigated.
Wanted on five warrants
Hernandez was wanted on five bond-revocation warrants on charges of aggravated assault with a weapon, assault on a peace officer, theft of a firearm, burglary and prohibited substance in a correctional facility.
The cases are from last year when deputies had arrested Hernandez three times — in Aug. 2, Nov. 19 and Dec. 30, according to information released by the Sherifff’s Office. He was out of jail on bond.
A sheriff’s document shows no gang affiliation for Hernandez.
The number of shots fired in the ambush and shootout was not available as an investigation continued in the desert on Wednesday, sheriff’s officials said.
Investigators were also working to determine how Hernandez obtained the AR-15.
The incident was the second police shooting in the El Paso area this month. An El Paso police patrol officer shot and wounded a man with a gun on March 11 in the Riverside area.
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