Tribal officer killed, another hurt in eastern Arizona shootings; suspect dead

A tight-knit community is working to heal and revisit safety after shootings left a tribal police officer dead and another hurt in eastern Arizona.
Published: Jun. 3, 2022 at 3:26 AM MST|Updated: Jun. 3, 2022 at 1:04 PM MST
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WHITERIVER, AZ (3TV/CBS 5/AP) – A tribal police officer was shot and killed during a traffic stop on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation of the White Mountain Apache Tribe in eastern Arizona Thursday night, and the suspect was killed in a subsequent shootout that left another officer wounded. According to the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office, Officer Adrian Lopez, Sr., stopped a vehicle driven by Kevin Dwight Nashio near the downtown area of Whiteriver. The two started fighting during the stop, and Lopez was shot. He died at the scene.

White Mountain Apache police officer Adrian Lopez was killed in the shooting late Thursday night.

Nashio stole Lopez’s patrol pickup truck, investigators said, and White Mountain Apache Police officers chased after him. The chase continued for nearly 40 miles through remote and rugged areas of the Fort Apache Reservation and a “rolling gun battle” took place, according to authorities.

Nashio crashed the truck into a tree in the Hawley Lake area, which is a popular tourist draw. A shootout between Nashio and officers began. It ended with 29-year-old Sgt. Lonnie Thompson hurt, and Nashio killed. The sergeant was airlifted to a Phoenix hospital. On Friday, Navajo County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Brian Swanty said his injuries “were not considered to be life-threatening but could certainly be debilitating.”

Lopez had only been with the department since January, according to the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office. Prior to that, he served as a federal Bureau of Indian Affairs police officer from March 2021 through December. He leaves behind a wife and child. “There are no good takeaways from this. The only bright spot is the law enforcement response. Having so many law enforcement regardless of jurisdiction, regardless of size or shape of the badge — it’s a brother, it’s a family member. Everybody responded. Every time a member of law enforcement is killed, it takes a piece of all of us,” said FBI Special Agent Sam Davenport.

The White Mountain Apache Tribe released the following statement:

“The Tribe is indebted to our Police Department and EMS for their prompt and courageous response, and grateful for the assistance rendered by our neighboring jurisdictions. Our prayers, tonight, are with the families of those officers involved, and with all of our first responders.”

White Mountain Apache Tribe

Swanty said the harsh conditions made it difficult for the responding officers. “What these officers were faced with last night, it can only be described as absolutely chaotic,” said Swanty. “They’re in rural, primitive areas of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Heavy dust, dirty, dusty, rough roads, flashing lights, they’re chasing a car that looks just like the car that they’re driving. It’s just very, very, very chaotic with gunfire coming and you don’t know where the gunfire is coming from. You could never build a training scenario of this nature. In all the years I’ve been in this business and of my colleagues, I’ve never seen anything of this nature.”

Whiteriver is nearly 200 miles from the Phoenix metro area.
Whiteriver is nearly 200 miles from the Phoenix metro area.(Arizona's Family)

Swanty would not elaborate on how Nashio was already known to police. He also said it has not yet been determined why Lopez pulled him over.

Gov. Doug Ducey ordered flags at all state buildings lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Monday. “There is no greater act of selflessness than for one to lay down his life for another,” Ducey said in a statement. “Officer Lopez will be remembered as a selfless and brave protector.”

Meanwhile, tribal Chairman Kasey Velasquez said all flags on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation will be flown at half-staff until further notice. He called Lopez “a beacon of light, a bulwark against the darkness.” “Last night the unimaginable happened. Our hearts are once again broken by the loss of one of our best and bravest White Mountain Apache police officers,” Velasquez said.

He added that a police officer’s love is like no other. “We have not lost hope, nor faith, in the future of our White Mountain Apache Tribe. There is no greater love than for one to lay down his life for another. And our fallen police officer did just that,” said Velasquez.

Another tribal officer was injured similarly in February. In February, Yavapai-Apache police officer Preston Brogdon was shot while responding to a call. Brogdon’s wife, Bailey, says something like this shakes the community. “The tribe took it very personally. They took it very personally, they were offended that this happened on their land. They were heartbroken, and I think that’s also going to be true for the White Mountain,” said Bailey.

Bailey added that the community should focus on healing after the tragic incident. “What can we do right now to feel like we’re doing something? Sometimes that maybe includes a retention raise, restructuring to maybe have more officers patrolling. But mostly focusing on healing as a community, as a police department,” she said.

The FBI is leading the investigation. Other agencies involved include the White Mountain Apache Game Rangers, San Carlos Apache Game Rangers, Pinetop-Lakeside Police Department, Navajo County Sheriff’s Office, Apache County Sheriff’s Office, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Arizona’s Family received exclusive video Friday morning of a law enforcement vehicle that had been shot several times.

The suspect was killed and a second officer was wounded. That officer was flown to a Phoenix-area hospital for treatment.

Tribal police officer killed in 2020

The eastern Arizona tribe is still mourning the death of a young officer from two years ago. White Mountain Apache police Officer David Kellywood, 26, was killed in February 2020 while responding to a report of shots fired outside a casino. He struggled with a suspect who then shot him. A second officer fatally shot the suspect. Kellywood had only been with the department for nine months.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.