Suspect in killing of LASD deputy pleads not guilty by reason of insanity
“Whether mental health is a factor or not, think about this: If I had to go to your family and tell them that you were not coming home and you were just murdered, does it matter what the person was thinking or their condition?” Sheriff Luna said
By Keri Blakinger, Salvador Hernandez and Richard Winton
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Four days after Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer was fatally shot in the head, his fiancée fought back tears as she spoke publicly for the first time about the man she planned to spend the rest of her life with.
Brittany Lindsey’s fairytale engagement ended in a nightmare Saturday night when Clinkunbroomer was shot in the head while driving a marked patrol car near the sheriff’s Palmdale station.
“Ryan was the best guy I’ve ever met,” Lindsey said at a joint news conference Wednesday with Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón and Sheriff Robert Luna. “I am so happy I was able to love him. It was not long enough.”
Lindsey’s and Clinkunbroomer’s families joined the district attorney and the sheriff to announce murder charges against Kevin Cataneo Salazar of Palmdale.
Behind her, Clinkunbroomer’s family cried quietly, and solemn-faced deputies from the Palmdale station lined one side of the crowded room inside the Hall of Justice.
“We’re hurting right now,” Luna said. “The family is hurting, this department is hurting.”
Though the news conference was called to publicly announce a murder charge against Cataneo Salazar, officials were tight-lipped when it came to releasing additional details about the case.
In a courtroom in Lancaster earlier in the day, Cataneo Salazar pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in Clinkunbroomer’s fatal shooting.
The 29-year-old, whose family said he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, faces one count of murder with special circumstances of lying in wait, firing from a car and personal use of a firearm, a .22-caliber revolver, in the shooting, according to the criminal complaint.
Cataneo Salazar’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While prosecutors confirmed that the suspect had purchased a gun in the weeks before the killing, they did not clarify whether they believed he had purchased it legally. And though they acknowledged “unconfirmed” reports about his mental health history, they said the investigation was in the early stages and they were still collecting more documentation.
“We’re not being cagey; we’re simply protecting the integrity of the investigation,” Gascón said.
Though Luna said he hoped for “nothing less than the maximum punishment available under the law,” Gascón reiterated his past position on the use of the death penalty, seemingly confirming the ultimate punishment was not on the table.
“If I thought that seeking the death penalty was going to bring Ryan back to us, I would seek it without any reservation,” he said. “But it won’t.”
Cataneo Salazar’s court appearance occurred as Clinkunbroomer’s body was escorted in a long procession of law enforcement motorcycles and marked patrol cars along the 10 Freeway from the county coroner’s office to a mortuary in Covina.
In Santa Clarita, Clinkunbroomer’s hometown, a memorial was set at the top of a 172-stair climb in Central Park, where a picture of the fallen deputy was being signed. The memorial was set to continue until sunset Wednesday.
A motive in the shooting is unclear, but Cataneo Salazar did not have a criminal record before his arrest Monday.
His mother, Marle Salazar, told The Times in an interview that her son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia about five years ago and the family had struggled with his illness for years. She said her son attempted suicide at least twice and was hospitalized on at least two occasions because of mental health crises.
She said she and the rest of her family were not aware that Cataneo Salazar had in the last year legally purchased a firearm, which experts said he should have been prohibited from doing considering his mental health history.
Salazar said she and her family had tried to make sure that her son was not a danger to himself or others, including safeguarding the firearms owned by her husband. But she said she was surprised to learn, after the shooting, that her son had been able to purchase a gun.
Cataneo Salazar’s most recent hospitalization was in September 2021, around the time sheriff’s deputies were called to the family’s home for a welfare check.
A law enforcement source said Cataneo Salazar’s record indicates he was barred from purchasing a firearm in California until 2026, possibly because of the 2021 hospitalization. That has raised questions as to how the 29-year-old was able to legally purchase a firearm.
Prosecutor David Ayvazian said officials were requesting records regarding Cataneo’s mental health history and previous calls to his home from sheriff’s officials.
But authorities declined to offer more details on the case, including questions about whether Clinkunbroomer was specifically targeted by Cataneo Salazar and about law enforcement’s previous encounters with him concerning his mental health.
Luna, too, said some of the information was being withheld to maintain the integrity of the case.
“There is public interest in that, but right now, our priority is to get this individual prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” he said. “We don’t want to put this out right now. And it’s not because we have something to hide. It’s because we need to get this individual prosecuted with the facts and evidence that we have.”
Asked about the special circumstance of lying in wait, prosecutors pointed to the video that shows a vehicle pulling up alongside Clinkunbroomer during the shooting.
“We believe the evidence is sufficient for conviction,” Ayvazian said. “If you’ve seen the video, and the way it’s been described as an ambush, that is consistent with the lying-in-wait theory of prosecution.”
Luna was asked about Cataneo Salazar’s mental health.
“Whether mental health is a factor or not, think about this: If I had to go to your family and tell them that you were not coming home and you were just murdered, does it matter what the person was thinking or their condition?”
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