A California sheriff’s deputy was killed in what authorities have called an “execution,” allegedly by a man who was taken into custody after stealing a woman’s purse at gunpoint.
Stanislaus County Deputy Dennis Wallace, 53, was shot twice in the head after radioing in that he was going to check on a suspicious van at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday at the Fox Grove Fishing Access in Hughson, officials said.
After being informed that the van had allegedly been stolen by a man identified as David Machado, Wallace requested assistance, but in the five minutes that it took another deputy to arrive on the scene, he had been shot, police said.
He did not fire any shots at the suspect, as he had been unable to get his gun out of his holster before he was shot, Sheriff Adam Christianson said at a press conference.
“We believe that Deputy Wallace was killed outside of the car, and we know for a fact that the gun used in this crime was in direct contact with his head when the trigger was pulled twice,” Christianson said “This was an execution.”
Wallace was rushed to a nearby hospital, but he could not be saved.
“The killing of Deputy Dennis Wallace has had a tremendous negative affect on our organization. We are a family … We’ve lost someone special to us,” Christianson later said.
Law enforcement launched a massive manhunt for Machado, who had a felony warrant out for the killing, authorities said.
About 20 minutes after the shooting, a carjacking was reported in Keyes, where the victim identified the suspect as Machado, who allegedly abandoned the stolen van nearby, police said.
Machado, 36, traveled about 150 miles to Lindsay, where he allegedly tried to steal a woman’s purse at gunpoint near a convenience store, but the woman fought back, officials said.
Lindsay Police arrested Machado, who tried to flee down a residential alleyway but surrendered without incident, authorities said. He was then identified as the man wanted for allegedly killing Wallace.
The investigation is ongoing, authorities said.
“There are multiple crime scenes, in multiple cities, involving multiple agencies all attempting to piece together the details regarding Deputy Wallace’s death,” the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.
Machado has an outstanding warrant in connection to another felony, authorities said.
“We still have a long way to go and more work needs to be done,” Christianson said. “[Machado] will stand trial and we will seek justice.”
Wallace is survived by his wife, Mercedes, and his children. Loved ones were left reeling from the loss of the 20-year veteran of the department, who they said was committed to serving the community, both in and out of uniform.
“The world lost a wonderful human being,” one friend wrote on Facebook. “Dennis touched so many lives and loved unconditionally. We will miss you and love you forever.”
“He was a true hero,” another posted.
Wallace was also involved in youth soccer, refereed football games and taught children how to avoid drugs and violence in the local D.A.R.E. program.
“He wasn’t just assigned to Hughson; he’s a fixture in Hughson. He was so well-loved,” county Supervisor Vito Chiesa told the Modesta Bee.
Wallace had waged a hard-fought and well-watched battle to remain on the job after suffering a knee injury that caused him to go two years without pay and off duty, taking county administrators to court in a lawsuit that reached the California Supreme Court and had not been fully resolved, according to reports.
Though a civil trial ended in a hung jury, Wallace claimed disability discrimination and two years of missed wages and benefits and emotional distress and asked for $468,000 in damages, the Bee reported.
County administrators said Wallace could not safely perform duties, but he was eventually reinstated in 2013.
A second verdict favored the county, but he appealed and earlier this year appellate justices ordered the case to return to a local court to determine how much Wallace might be owed.
The county appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case, handing Wallace a victory pending retrial.
Wallace is the fifth law enforcement officer in California to die in the line of duty in the last five weeks.