DPS officer shot in face; suspects' vehicle from Blue Alert located

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- A Department of Public Safety officer is in the hospital after he was shot in the face during what started as a traffic stop in Phoenix, and a massive manhunt is underway for the five suspects.

It happened at about 3 a.m. Wednesday in the parking lot of the Knights Inn at the Interstate 17 and McDowell Road.

Police spent the morning searching for a dark blue 2008 Mercury Sable that has Kansas plates with the number 887GAM. They eventually found the car in the area of 28th Avenue and Pima Road. The suspects are still at large.

According to investigators, this all started when the officer stopped the car because it had extremely dark window tinting. The windows were so dark that the officer reportedly could not see inside the car, even with his flashlight.

The officer spoke with at least one person in the car. Moments later, somebody pulled a gun and shot the officer in the face.

The suspects also fired at two DPS officers who responded to their colleague's radio call for help. Those officers, neither of whom was hurt, returned fire and hit the Mercury Sable.

Aerial video from Newschopper 3 showed the car where officers located it. The back window looked like it had been shot out.

Right after the shooting, police issued a Blue Alert for the Mercury Sable, so information about it was posted to freeway signs throughout the Valley metro area. The Blue Alert System, which is similar to an Amber Alert but is used in cases like this morning's shooting, went into effect in Arizona over the summer.

Police canceled the Blue Alert as soon as they found the vehicle.

While the search for the Sable was underway, police warned people that the suspects should be considered armed and dangerous.

"Nobody should be approaching these subjects," DPS Officer Tim Case told 3TV's Javier Soto and other reporters outside Banner Good Samaritan Hospital, where the wounded officer was taken.

"We don't know who the shooter was," Phoenix Police Department spokesman Officer James Holmes told 3TV's Tess Rafols. "We don't  know how many weapons are inside that vehicle. ... Based on the fact that not only did they shoot this DPS officer, but as officers came to his aid, they came around the building and started firing at them -- this makes them extremely dangerous."

The fact that the car carries an out-of-state license plate presents certain challenges for police.

"What do we know about the registered owner of that vehicle, who immediately becomes an investigative lead for us?" Holmes explained. "Is the owner of the car with the car or is somebody else using it? ... What about the folks who are with them? Are they local or are they from Kansas?"

Holmes said as far as investigators know, the car has not been reported stolen.

"We've got a lot of work to do on it," he continued.

In addition to searching the city for the Mercury Sable, officers have been scouring the parking lot of the Knights Inn for evidence and going door to door to determine if anybody saw anything that might help them find the suspects.

DPS has not released many details about the injured officer, saying only that he is a six-year veteran and was conscious and talking when he was transported to the hospital. He is married.

He underwent a five-hour surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital, according to a news release from the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Shortly before 2 p.m., the Officer was transferred out of surgery to intensive care where he is said to be in stable condition.

Doctors reportedly expect to keep him in the hospital for the next several days.

While many consider traffic stops "routine" procedures for DPS, deputies and police, officers on the street know they are anything but.

DPS spokesman Bart Graves said as much in early July after a suspect rammed a patrol car during a traffic stop.

"This is the kind of dangers these officers face every day all over the state," Graves said. "In these traffic stops, we never know who is behind that wheel, what they're going to do."