SANTA CRUZ, California (Reuters) - A gunman who killed two police officers in Northern California had been under investigation for sexual assault and shot the officers and stripped them of their firearms after they arrived at his home to question him, authorities said on Wednesday.
Police said they later shot and killed the assailant, Jeremy Goulet, who had a criminal history, near the scene of the Tuesday afternoon exchange of gunfire with the two officers in Santa Cruz, California.
Goulet, 35, had taken the detective car of one of the two officers he killed and had also been wearing body armor, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Phil Wowak told reporters.
The violence followed the killings of three law enforcement officers in Southern California this month by fired Los Angeles policeman Christopher Dorner during what police have described as a revenge-fueled rampage.
Dorner, who was also accused of killing the daughter of a retired police captain, later died in a fiery mountain standoff.
In the Santa Cruz incident, Sergeant Loran Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler had gone to Goulet's home in a residential neighborhood of the city, 60 miles south of San Francisco, to investigate the sexual assault of a woman, the Santa Cruz Sheriff's Office said in a statement
Goulet, who was a suspect in the assault, opened fire on the two officers and killed them, the sheriff's office said. The pair were the first Santa Cruz police officers killed in the line of duty.
"It's been devastating," Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel told reporters. "There are absolutely no words for me to adequately describe what my department's been going through since yesterday afternoon."
Goulet had been arrested on Friday for disorderly conduct involving alcohol, according to an online police log of cases. The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that Goulet listed his occupation on jail records as a barista.
The sheriff's office said Goulet's criminal history included a conviction in Oregon for invasion of privacy and unlawful possession of a firearm, for which he served two years in prison. In that case, which dates from 2008, Goulet peeped on a woman in a shower and fired off several rounds of gunfire during a confrontation with her boyfriend, the Sentinel reported.
He was also arrested in California for peeping, prowling and being drunk in public, the sheriff's office said. Wowak told reporters Goulet had moved to Santa Cruz only months before the shooting and that acquaintances described him as "despondent" and likely "suicidal or homicidal."
Wowak said it remained unclear whether Goulet took the body armor from the police car he commandeered after the shooting, or had already been in possession of it.
After killing the two officers, Goulet circled back to the scene of the killings, which is where other officers saw him, pursued him on foot, and shot and killed him after he opened fire on them, the sheriff's office said.
Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney