The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is investigating a deputy whose marked patrol car was stolen when he left it parked with the keys inside on Christmas Day, authorities said Wednesday.
The patrol car theft suspect was later shot and wounded by police and California Highway Patrol officers in San Diego after a chase, police said
A department official initially said the deputy was using the restroom inside a sheriff's youth center in the 7900 block of Compton Avenue in the Firestone area about 7 a.m. when the car was taken.
But a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said Wednesday that internal affairs detectives later learned that the deputy was dropping off a Christmas present at a business. The deputy acknowledged that the keys were in the car, but said the vehicle was locked, the source said. San Diego Police Lt. Kevin Rooney, of the homicide squad, said the windows were intact when they stopped the car on Interstate 5.
The department is investigating whether the deputy should have been at the business and why the patrol car wasn't secured better, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is a confidential personnel matter.
The department, also citing confidentiality rules, would not identify the deputy.
The Sheriff's Department, like most law enforcement agencies in Southern California, requires officers to secure their vehicles when they leave them unattended, officials said. More than 150 law enforcement vehicles, however, have been stolen or broken into this year nationwide, according to news reports.
Michael Gennaco, chief attorney for the County Office of Independent Review, a sheriff oversight office, said officers and deputies often jump out of their patrol vehicles in a hurry, leaving the cars susceptible to theft.
"This happens every so often," he said. In 2005, a 20-year-old man pretended to be a participant in the sheriff's Law Enforcement Explorer Program to get permission to ride along with a Compton station deputy, Gennaco said.
After the ride, he told the deputy he needed to get back in to the patrol car to get his backpack, and then drove off, Gennaco said.
Police car thefts are common enough that at least one company markets a specialized anti-theft device to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. In September, three handcuffed drug-smuggling suspects stole a U.S. Border Patrol car and took it to Mexico.
Even police chiefs have fallen victim to car theft. In 2005, Washington, D.C.'s chief had an unmarked department vehicle stolen from near his home.
In the latest case, sheriff's Lt. Chris Nee of the Century Station said the L.A. County Sheriff's Department put out a bulletin immediately about the stolen patrol car.
A motorist reported the unusual presence of an L.A. County patrol car in the San Diego area. CHP officers and San Diego police chased the suspect, Regino Aguilar, 26, until he stopped on the median and jumped out, authorities said. When officers demanded that he surrender, Aguilar reportedly went back to the stolen vehicle and "began to pull on a shotgun secured between the front seats," Rooney said.
A CHP officer and a San Diego officer fired at Aguilar, who suffered non-life-threatening wounds. Upon his release from the hospital, he will be booked into the San Diego County Jail on suspicion of auto theft, felony evading arrest and assault, authorities said.