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DA: Deputies’ actions justified in 2018 shooting death of a Marine Corps veteran near Joshua Tree National Park

A gavel cracks down. (Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid/U.S. Air Force)

The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office recently said four deputies who shot and killed a man north of Joshua Tree National Park in 2018 were legally justified in their actions.

In a report filed earlier this month, the DA’s office deemed the use of lethal force by San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies Roger Alfaro, Michael Sellers, Robert Stucki and Sgt. Mauricio Hurtado a proper exercise of their “right of self-defense and defense of others” after firing upon 58-year-old Ray Wyatt.

Prior to the shooting, authorities said Wyatt gunned down his ex-girlfriend, 23-year-old Ronda Ebeling, in a desert field in front of one of the deputies, who had just pulled up in response to a 911 call.

Ebeling later died in a nearby hospital after suffering multiple gunshot wounds.

“There was no reason to question Wyatt’s willingness to shoot and kill the deputies at the scene,” the DA’s Office said in its review. “Under all those circumstances, it was objectively reasonable for (the deputies and sergeant) to believe Wyatt posed an immediate and extremely serious threat not only to their physical safety but also the safety of (Ebeling) and civilians in nearby homes or passing vehicles.”

A meeting that turns violent

The following details taken from the DA’s March 18 report give an account of the night of May 21, 2018:

Ebeling told a friend and coworker that she planned to meet up with her ex-boyfriend, Wyatt, to return some of his property, but she expressed some trepidation about the encounter.

According to the friend — identified as “Witness #2” in the report — Ebeling said Wyatt had “beat” her a week earlier.

The friend offered to accompany Ebeling to the meeting with Wyatt, but she declined. She told the friend, however, that she would keep him on the phone so the friend could listen to and monitor her conversation with Wyatt.

Ebeling then met up with Wyatt at the intersection of Yucca Trail and La Contenta Road, a location in Yucca Valley only a couple miles north of Joshua Tree National Park.

The friend later told detectives that he was concerned the meeting was “going to turn violent” after he heard the two argue and Ebeling “say something that sounded like, ‘you’re the one who’s pulling out a gun.'”

The friend called 911 after hearing what he said sounded like Wyatt hitting Ebeling and the woman screaming for help.

Shortly before 8:30 p.m., sheriff’s deputies from the Morongo Basin Station responded.

Deputy Stucki arrived first. As he pulled up, he saw Wyatt and Ebeling standing near two blue pick-up trucks.

“When the headlights on Deputy Stucki’s patrol vehicle illuminated (Ebeling) and Wyatt, Deputy Stucki saw Wyatt pull out a gun and shoot (Ebeling),” the report read.

Stucki immediately got out and began firing his weapon at Wyatt who ran into the desert.

Deputy Tyler Detrinidad reached the scene second.

He pulled Ebeling to a safer spot near a patrol vehicle as Stucki provided cover with a Mini-14 rifle.

Deputies fan out to find Wyatt

About 20 seconds later, Sellers, Alfaro and Sgt. Hurtado arrived and armed themselves with rifles.

Detrinidad was told to stay with Ebeling as the other four deputies spread out in a search for Wyatt.

Hurtado told investigators at the time that he knew he had a “possible murder or attempted murder suspect armed with a handgun running through the desert.” He expressed the concern he had about nearby residences and vehicles in the area.

As the deputies walked out into the desert, Stucki saw Wyatt behind a bush. The deputies chased after Wyatt, who reportedly remained armed with a gun and would not comply with their commands.

“Wyatt raised the gun towards the deputies. One of the deputies yelled ‘gun’ and the deputies started firing at Wyatt,” the DA’s Office said.

Wyatt then took off again, and the deputies saw him fall face down on the ground.

They handcuffed Wyatt and started CPR but he later died at the scene.

According to a forensic pathologist, Wyatt died from gunshot wounds to the chest. A 9 mm handgun was found near his body during the investigation.

Ebeling died at the hospital at 9:35 p.m. that night.

A woman with an adventurous spirit

Her mother, Debi Jolley, told the Hi-Desert Star in 2018 that Ebeling “was the kind of person who could do anything.”

On her Instagram, the 23-year-old from Joshua Tree described herself as “a Biological Anthropologist, mortician, rancher, an avid model, stunt woman, wilderness trekker and abandoned mine explorer.”

Jolley told the Star that Ebeling worked as a funeral attendant, and also in transportation and retrieval with the sheriff’s coroner’s office.

In the article, Jolley said Ebeling met Wyatt — a U.S. Marine Corps veteran — through her work but had ended the relationship at some time before meeting him on the night of their deaths.

“He stalked her and he started using emotions to get her to stay with him,” she said in the article. “I hated him and her father couldn’t stand him.”

Two weeks before her death, Ebeling posted on Facebook a photograph she took which had been published in a magazine.

In the magazine’s interview, she said her parents had always been her strongest supporters in her endeavors, including her dad who she described as her “partner in crime.”

” … I know if I call him the night before and say ‘Hey I’ve got this crazy idea or I want to go do XYZ’ from mine exploring all the way to last-minute traveling/events, I know his response is always going to be ‘Okay, what time do we leave?’ without a second thought,” Ebeling said.

She added: “So, without a doubt my strongest supporters are my parents, from my sense of adventure, all the way to my emotional support. I just wouldn’t be who I am today without them.”

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