PHOENIX (AP) — A critically wounded Phoenix police detective who lay bleeding on the pavement returned fire, striking the suspect who had also shot the detective’s partner while the two officers were attempting to arrest the ex-convict on an outstanding warrant, authorities said Tuesday.
John Hobbs, 43, a 21-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department, later died from gunshot wounds. His partner, a 44-year-old nine-year veteran of the force who authorities have not identified, remained hospitalized in stable condition Tuesday.
“Today is a tragic reminder that our officers risk their lives for us every single day,” Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said at a news conference Tuesday morning.
Police identified the suspect, who was killed in the shootout Monday afternoon, as William Thornton. The 28-year-old was wanted on a probation violation warrant after having just been released from prison Jan. 9 where he served time for a drug conviction and resisting arrest.
In addition to the warrant, Thornton was a key suspect in the attempted murder of a man who was shot in the chest on Feb. 25, Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia said.
“The suspect immediately opened fire on our officers,” Garcia said, noting the shooting highlights the dangers detectives encounter when tracking fugitives who don’t want to go back to prison. “They’ll do everything they can do to get away, including a reckless abandon for human life and that’s what we saw yesterday.”
Garcia said the undercover detectives were conducting surveillance outside a north Phoenix business that Thornton was known to frequent. When the suspect arrived at about 3:30 p.m. Monday, Garcia said it appears he immediately noticed the officers and tried to flee in a vehicle before causing a three-car collision in a nearby intersection.
Thornton then attempted to run away from the scene before exchanging gunfire with the detectives. Hobbs was shot first, but immediately began returning fire while lying on the pavement, striking the suspect multiple times. It wasn’t immediately clear if Hobbs fired the fatal shots that killed Thornton.
Neither detective was wearing a bullet proof vest at the time of the shooting.
“They didn’t have time” to put them on, Phoenix police Sgt. Steve Martos said while commending Hobbs’ action after being shot.
“Heroic, absolutely heroic,” Martos added. “We’re talking about an officer who was shot and didn’t give up the fight.”
Hobbs and his partner were members of the department’s Major Offenders Bureau tasked with tracking down and arresting violent offenders and fugitives.
Witnesses described the shooting as a scene of chaos with people fleeing from the crowded street corner as gunshots rang out.
“It was obvious that the guy was out of control,” said Wayne Monton, who owns a nearby business. “After the crash and the shooting, everybody just took off running … It was crazy. We thought it was a drug war.”
Authorities said Hobbs leaves behind a wife and three young children.
“He is absolutely loved by everyone,” Martos said. “He will be greatly missed.”
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