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Officer who opened fire on pursuit suspect identified

SAN DIEGO — Authorities Tuesday identified the nine-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department who opened fire last Friday on a 21-year-old car theft suspect during a pursuit, then later crashed a patrol unit into the stolen Range Rover to end the chase.

The officer was identified as Andres Ruiz, who is assigned to the department’s canine unit, SDPD Lt. Mike Holden said.

He said the suspect, Jeremiah Fetalaiga, was uninjured in the shooting and pursuit, in which the La Mesa resident led law enforcement on a chase from Spring Valley to downtown San Diego, where he allegedly attempted to ram several patrol cars and an officer who was out of his vehicle.

Fetalaiga faces five felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer, one felony count of vehicle theft and one felony count of evading police. He’s being held in the San Diego Central Jail in lieu of $325,000 bail and is due to be arraigned Wednesday.

The shooting occurred in Barrio Logan at the Metropolitan Transit System trolley yard on Newton Avenue south of Petco Park, and the chase ended on Sixth Avenue and Broadway, about two blocks from Horton Plaza, Holden said.

The pursuit began about 10 minutes before midnight last Thursday when a San Diego County sheriff’s deputy tracking a LoJack signal came across the stolen Range Rover in Spring Valley, Holden told reporters last week. The SDPD’s Airborne Law Enforcement helicopter joined the pursuit early on, helping sheriff’s deputies and later California Highway Patrol officers track the SUV on northbound state Route 125, westbound Interstate 8 and southbound state Route 163 into downtown.

SDPD officers joined the chase as it entered downtown but discontinued the pursuit for safety reasons, Holden said, but the police helicopter continued to track the Range Rover as it was driven erratically through downtown.

“During this time, the suspect encountered SDPD units who were deployed in the area,” Holden said. “On one occasion, the suspect intentionally tried to ram an occupied, marked SDPD unit that had pulled to the curb. On another occasion, the suspect attempted to ram a uniformed SDPD officer that was out of his car and attempting to set up a spike strip.”

Officers used “evasive maneuvers” to avoid being hit, Holden said.

In Barrio Logan, officers were following Fetalaiga at a distance when he drove into the MTS trolley yard at 1535 Newton Ave., Holden said.

“As the first officer drove into the yard, the suspect turned his vehicle around and accelerated directly at the officer who was still in his vehicle,” Holden said. “Fearing that the suspect was going to intentionally ram his marked vehicle, the officer fired several rounds at the suspect from his handgun. The suspect swerved and drove out of the yard. No collision occurred.”

Police re-engaged the chase, and when Fetalaiga attempted a slow U-turn at Sixth Avenue and Broadway, Ruiz, the same officer who fired the shots earlier, “intentionally struck the suspect’s vehicle, ending the pursuit.”

Fetalaiga “did not sustain any injuries as a result of the officer-involved shooting,” but did complain of pain after the crash and was taken to a hospital, where he was medically cleared, Holden said.

“Shout out to my mom, bro,” Fetalaiga was heard yelling to news cameras at the scene. “I love you, mom.”

San Diego homicide detectives are conducting an investigation as is policy in an officer-involved shooting case, even when nobody is injured or killed.