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Manhunt ensues after gunman opens fire on California police station, shoots deputy in face

Nicholas Dreyfus
San Luis Obispo County Deputy Nicholas Dreyfus smiles at his pinning ceremony on May 29, 2019. Dreyfus was shot and wounded when responding to a call in Paso Robles on June 10, 2020. |

A statewide manhunt is underway in California for a suspect who opened fire on a police station in San Luis Obispo County and shot a sheriff's deputy in the face.

Authorities say that 26-year-old Mason James Lira began shooting outside the police department in downtown Paso Robles in the early hours of Wednesday morning. 

Officials say deputy who was shot in the altercation was transported to a hospital where he's recovering. Hours later, authorities discovered the body of a deceased 58-year-old homeless man who was shot in the head. Authorities believe the crimes are related. 

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's office described the attack as an "ambush." 

"This morning, we had an unprovoked attack on local law enforcement. And in my opinion, an act of a coward," San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said during a press briefing Wednesday. "One of my sheriff's deputies, who was responding to the Paso Robles Police Department, was shot in the face by the suspect that was laying in ambush at the police department."

"Our thoughts are with his family and all local law enforcement in this county," the sheriff added. 

The sheriff's office on Thursday named the injured deputy as 28-year-old Nicholas Dreyfus, who has served as a deputy in the county for two years and is assigned to the North County Sheriff's Station in Templeton. Dreyfus was flown to a trauma center for treatment."

"While searching for the suspect in the active shooter incident, Dreyfus was shot in the face," a statement from the Sherriff's Office explains. "He was transported to a local hospital and then flown to a trauma center out of the area where he underwent surgery for his injuries."

Dreyfus' surgery was successful and is listed in guarded condition while his prognosis is "good." 

"His wife and family members are with him as he recovers," the statement reads. 

According to Parkinson, the incident began at around 3:09 a.m. Wednesday, when staff inside the police department began hearing and observed through cameras, firing outside the police station. The officers responded to the incident and requested additional assistance from local law enforcement. 

"The suspect began firing at police cars as they entered the downtown area, where the building was located," the sheriff said. "Two of my deputies, who were driving in a two-person unit, arrived on scene at approximately 4 a.m. to assist the other officers that were being fired upon."

"At approximately 4:19 a.m., the two deputies were searching the area in which the shooter was last seen. They were out of their vehicle and came under fire," Parkinson explained. 

After Dreyfus was shot, his partner moved him to a safer location until the fire department arrived to transport him to a nearby hospital. 

According to The Associated Press, hundreds of police officers across the state have been searching for Lira since he fled the scene. 

Lira was spotted at a Chevron gas station on Ramada Drive buying an energy drink, NBC News affiliate KSBY reported.

"It's a wide-ranging, full-on, full-scale effort," Tony Cipolla, a spokesperson for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's office, said, according to the news outlet. "We're right behind him. You can't run forever."

A clerk at the gas station described the suspect to KSBY, saying he was sweaty, exhausted, and mumbling to himself. The clerk also said Lira "seemed crazy," but did not do anything to threaten her. 

The clerk said she recognized Lira and called the police after he left. 

Lira's actions come as there is much national scrutiny around law enforcement following the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody while he was handcuffed and on the ground. Floyd dropped to the ground after exiting a police squad car. He died as officers restrained him and former officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for over eight minutes and kept it there even after he died. 

The police stop began after a store clerk called 911 to report that Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's office ruled Floyd's death was a homicide and stated that he suffered "a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officer(s)." The medical examiner's office listed "arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease," "fentanyl intoxication" and "recent methamphetamine use" as "other significant conditions."

Floyd also tested positive for COVID-19, according to the autopsy report. 

Social unrest following Floyd's death has included peaceful demonstrations in all 50 states, as well as numerous acts of violence, looting, and rioting in several cities.  

In St. Paul, Minnesota, rioters breached the Minneapolis Police Department's Third Precinct — where officers involved in Floyd's death were stationed — and set it on fire. 

This week, a St. Paul man was charged in connection to the burning down of the police station. Branden Michael Wolfe, 23, has been charged with one count of aiding and abetting arson. 

According to federal prosecutors, Wolfe was "wearing multiple items stolen from the Third Precinct, including body armor, a police-issue duty belt with handcuffs, an earphone piece, baton, and knife" at the time of his arrest. 

In Atlanta, three people were arrested after they tracked police officers down and threw Molotov cocktails at their police cars. 

In Los Angeles, demonstrators smashed the windows of a highway patrol car while protesting Floyd's death.

In New York City, authorities say that two people threw Molotov cocktails through a police car window and also tried to pass out firebombs to other protesters on May 30. One of the suspects, Urooj Rahman, worked at both the State and Defense Departments during the Obama administration. 

Unrest over Floyd's death follows similar unrest that occurred in the wake of the controversial deaths of other African Americans in police custody in recent years, including Eric Garner in 2014 and Freddie Gray in Baltimore in 2015. 

Many have also recently spoken out about the killings of African Americans Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

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