Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, having cut short a visit to Hawaii, returned to work yesterday following the shooting death of a decorated sergeant and 29-year veteran in the first slaying of an on-duty member of the sheriff’s department in more than a decade.
Area law enforcement officials and members of the public gathered Wednesday night outside the county coroner’s office in Boyle Heights to mourn the death of 53-year-old Sgt. Steve Owen, who was killed by a parolee while responding to a residential burglary call in Lancaster earlier that day.
“The tragedy of a deputy sheriff such as Sgt. Steve Owen making the ultimate sacrifice has a massive impact on the whole law enforcement family,” said a statement from McDonnell.
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich each released a statement regarding Owen’s murder:
“Antelope Valley hero, Sgt. Steve Owen, represents the epitome of excellence in law enforcement,” Parris said. “Sgt. Owen has served our community for more than 20 years, earning such honors as the Meritorious Conduct Medal, which speaks to his dedication to fulfilling his duties in making the Antelope Valley a safer place. Sgt. Owen will be deeply missed on the force and in our hearts. My deepest condolences go out to his family and friends.
Antonovich said this: “Sgt. Owen was an outstanding law enforcement professional who I had the opportunity to know and work with. He was a husband and father who was respected by his colleagues and engaged in his community. He was senselessly murdered while responding to a call for help. His loss leaves a significant void for all those who knew him. Christine and I send prayers and condolences to his family and fellow deputies.”
Owen, a married father of three grown children, was a 29-year department veteran who had been promoted to sergeant five years ago. The killing is the first of an active-duty department member in 11 years.
“We all mourn together and our hearts go out especially to Steve’s immediate family Tania (his wife), his two adult sons Brandon and Chad, a stepdaughter Shannon and his mother Millie,” McDonnell said.
The shooting occurred shortly after noon as Owen and another deputy responded to a 911 call from a woman reporting a burglary at an apartment building in the 3200 block of West Avenue J-7, the sheriff’s department reported. Owen was shot by a gunman as he was checking the rear of the apartment building.
“The deputy at the front of the apartment complex ran … in the direction of that gunfire, where he found Sgt. Owen suffering from a gunshot wound. The suspect fled from that area and the deputy gave chase on foot,” Capt. Steven Katz said.
The gunman then ran to the front of the location and attempted to commandeer the sergeant’s patrol car, prompting the deputy to open fire. The suspect placed the car into reverse and rammed a second sheriff’s radio car, Katz said.
“A second deputy-involved-shooting occurred with the suspect at that time. The suspect fled from that vehicle on foot.”
A deputy who was injured—but not shot—apparently when the suspect tried to seize Owen’s patrol car, was also taken to a hospital, the sheriff’s department said.
A large cordon was established to contain the suspect, who entered another home, where there were two teenagers, Katz said.
The teens “were ultimately able to inform law enforcement of the presence of the suspect at that location,” Katz said, and an immediate rescue plan was put into effect.
A sheriff’s SWAT team entered the home to save the teens while the suspect left through a rear door. “Less than lethal” devices were deployed to prevent the suspect from re-entering the home, said Deputy Juanita Navarro-Suarez.
The gunman continued to try to escape and attempted to climb over a wall, but he was confronted by deputies and taken into custody, Navarro-Suarez said, adding that a firearm was recovered at the scene.
During the incident, officials at Antelope Valley College—which is a few blocks south of the shooting scene—advised students and staff to “shelter in place,” and several area schools, including Lancaster High, were placed on lockdown.
At one point as he was being sought and pursued, the gunman suffered a gunshot wound to the upper body and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. His name was not immediately released. No other suspects were being sought, according to the sheriff’s department.
Owen was taken to a hospital where he later died.
“We were fortunate in being able to find his wife, who is an arson-explosives detective in our department, and get her to the hospital … before Steve succumbed,” sheriff’s executive officer Neal Tyler told reporters.
Owen’s adult son and daughter, as well his mother, were also at his bedside, Tyler said.
Owen received a Meritorious Conduct Medal in 2014, along with five of his Lancaster Station colleagues, for their roles in a pursuit and standoff situation involving a series of armed gang members.