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Suspect arrested in fatal shooting of two California police officers

(Reuters) - A suspect arrested in the fatal shooting of two California police officers had high-capacity ammunition magazines and concealable soft body armor when he was captured, law enforcement authorities said on Sunday.

John Felix, 26, was taken into custody by a SWAT team in Palm Springs, California, early Sunday morning after an hours-long standoff that began when four officers arrived at the home to investigate a report of a family dispute. He was not armed at the time of his arrest.

The officers came under fire soon after arriving at the residence in response to a call from a woman who said her son was causing a disturbance, police said.

The officers killed were Jose Vega, 63, a veteran of the Palm Springs Police Department who planned to retire in December, and Lesley Zerebny, 27, who was on the force for a year and a half and had just returned from maternity leave after giving birth to a daughter.

A third officer, who authorities declined to identify, suffered non-life threatening injuries and is expected to be released from a hospital shortly. Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes said at a news conference that the officer was providing details about the incident to investigators.

A neighbor, Juan Graciano, 67, said on Saturday that he heard angry shouting between a father and son who live at the residence before the older man emerged from the home, crossed the street and asked another neighbor to call for help.

After the initial shooting, dozens of officers in tactical gear and backed by an armored vehicle set up positions outside the home where the suspect had barricaded himself and continued to fire shots.

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Police deployed robots inside the residence but failed to pinpoint the suspect’s location. They then released “chemical agents” inside of the home and Felix came out shortly after.

Ray Wood, the Riverside County Sheriff Department’s chief deputy, said officers used “less lethal ammunitions to subdue the suspect” when he still refused to surrender.

Felix was treated at a hospital after his arrest. He will be booked on two counts of murder of a police officer, authorities said in a statement. He could receive the death penalty if convicted.

Police would not comment on the suspect’s criminal record but The Desert Sun newspaper reported Felix was previously sentenced to four years in prison in an attempted gang-affiliated killing.

Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Bill Trott