Suspect in shooting of off-duty LAPD cop had been arrested twice in past 3 months

The man broke into an LAPD officer's personal vehicle and shot the officer with his own service weapon, police said

By James Queally, Richard Winton
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — A 24-year-old "transient" has been charged with attempted murder after he allegedly broke into an off-duty Los Angeles police officer's vehicle and shot him with his own service weapon, court records show.

Christopher Camarena was charged with attempted murder of a peace officer and robbery in connection with what police described as an April 28 "gun battle" near a Sherman Oaks apartment complex, according to a criminal complaint filed last week.

Records show Camarena had been arrested twice in the last three months, and was last released from jail just weeks before the shooting.

Camarena was scheduled to make his first court appearance Friday, but his arraignment was continued until early June, records show. Prosecutors also filed sentencing enhancements against Camarena for the use of a firearm during the alleged crime and the fact that the officer suffered great bodily injury.

Although Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón largely barred the use of sentencing enhancements when he took office last year, they can be filed in some cases, including those where a victim suffers extensive physical injuries or when a firearm is used in a way that poses "an extreme and immediate threat to human life."

The complaint identified the officer who was wounded as Michael Beyda. He remains hospitalized in stable condition, according to an LAPD spokesman.

Last week, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said Camarena broke into Beyda's vehicle, where he found a bulletproof vest and the officer's service weapon sometime around 2:30 p.m. April 28. Beyda found Camarena inside the vehicle when he walked downstairs from an apartment building in the 5200 block of Vesper Avenue.

A confrontation ensued, according to Moore, and Beyda drew his backup weapon. Camarena was shot in the arm, shoulder and leg before falling in a breezeway near the complex, according to Moore, who said Beyda was shot in the chest and thigh but managed to reclaim his service weapon before collapsing near his vehicle.

Police officials have not said who opened fire first or what security measures Camarena had to overcome to gain access to Beyda's firearm. Moore said last week that LAPD personnel are expected to make "every reasonable effort to ensure the safety and security" of their firearms, noting the department would seek to determine if Beyda's on-duty weapon was properly secured.

A law enforcement source told The Times that the doors to the garage and Beyda's vehicle were unlocked before the shooting. His service weapon was not locked in a case inside the vehicle either, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the matter candidly. An LAPD spokesman said he could not "corroborate those details at this stage of the investigation."

Camarena had previously been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest and vehicle theft in 2015 and 2017, according to the complaint. Jail records show he was arrested twice earlier this year.

In a statement, Glendale Police Sgt. Christian Hauptmann described Camarena as a "transient" who was found carrying screwdrivers, bolt cutters and "other tools" when officers responded Feb. 5 to reports of a suspicious person near a business in the 1600 block of Victory Boulevard. The hinge of a nearby padlocked shed had been partially pried off, Hauptmann said.

"Camarena did not admit to breaking into the shed, but stated he found it open and decided to rummage through what was inside the shed and was planning on taking whatever items he wanted. Camarena was arrested and booked for burglary and possession of burglary tools," the statement read.

Jail records show Camarena was released the same day. Hauptmann blamed his immediate release on L.A. County's adoption of an emergency bail schedule meant to keep jail populations down during the COVID-19 epidemic, but also noted Glendale police had yet to present a case against the 24-year-old to the district attorney's office. Hauptmann said Glendale detectives would do so Wednesday.

Ten days after the Glendale incident, Camarena was arrested again by deputies from the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's Temple station. The nature of his arrest was not immediately clear.

A spokeswoman for the sheriff's department referred all questions to the district attorney's office. A spokesman for the district attorney's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Camarena was released from custody April 12, a little more than two weeks before the shooting of Beyda.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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