Palm Spring Police ambush suspect John Felix is a monster who should face the death penalty for the coldly calculated ambush of police officers called to his home in a domestic dispute. That clearly noted, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin dishonors the deaths of Officers Jose “Gil” Vega and Lesley Zerebny when he lies about how they died, and what killed them.
A gang member used armor piercing-bullets and an AR-15 to kill two Palm Springs police officers in a planned “ambush” on Saturday, said Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin in a press conference Wednesday.
John Felix, 26, shot an assault rifle through the front door of his house, killing Officers Jose “Gil” Vega and Lesley Zerebny and wounding a third officer – all of whom were wearing bulletproof vests. Felix was captured early Sunday morning after a 12-hour standoff with police and SWAT teams.
Felix has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder, with enhancements filed on each charge for the use of body armor and armor-piercing bullets — legally defined as ammo “primarily designed to penetrate metal and armor.”
Felix was also charged with illegal possession of an assault weapon and possession of a stolen firearm. Hestrin said Felix attempted to murder three other officers beyond the two who died by shooting directly at them. One of them was injured and was released from the hospital Sunday.
The names of the three officers are identified in court documents, but The Desert Sun has elected not to publish them at this time.
Felix’s weapon was an AR-15 rifle with a scratched-off serial number, according to the DA’s office. This kind of rifle can be legally owned in California, but not by Felix, who was already a convicted felon. Felix also possessed several illegal high-capacity magazines.
“This individual wanted to kill police officers,” Hestrin said, referring to Felix. “That’s the motive. He wanted to gun down police officers because they wore the uniform.”
Hestrin described the events as a targeted “ambush.”
“These police officers walked into a trap,” he said.
The truth is that John Felix was a convicted felon who had no legal avenues to acquire a firearm in California, and yet he did. California’s worst-in-the-nation gun laws, which only make life difficult for those interested in obeyed the law, were no impediment to Felix acquiring arms, armor, ammunition, and standard capacity magazines. California’s gun laws utterly failed to protect these officers, as did a revolving-door criminal justice system that put him back on the street.
District Attorney Hestrin is being dishonest in claiming that Felix fired an assault rifle, that armor-piercing ammunition was used, or that officers wear “bulletproof” vests.
Felix used a common semi-automatic-only (one shot per trigger pull) AR-15. It was not selective-fire. It was neither burst-fire capable, nor fully-automatic, and therefore not an assault rifle—a type of firearm closely controlled under the National Firearms Act of 1934, and outlawed for civilian manufacture since the Hughes Amendment became law when the Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA) passed 30 years ago.
This is not a trivial matter.
No legally-owned, NFA-registered assault rifles have been used to commit a criminal homicide in the history of the United States, and this police ambush does not change that fact. The rifle used was a common if stolen AR-15 carbine, the most popular and best-selling rifle in the country, which is not a military weapon.
Hestrin was wrong in claiming that the ammunition used to commit this horrific act is “armor-piercing.” Under both federal law and California statutes “armor-piercing” refers to handgun ammunition, not 5.56 NATO ammunition used by AR-15s and their military assault rifle cousins. The ammunition used isn’t even considered armor-piercing under the very different (and more commonly grasped) military definition of the term.
This (above) is the 5.56 NATO M995 round. It is distinctive among 5.56 cartridges both for the black-painted tip of the bullet and it’s tungsten penetrator core, which makes it the only armor-piercing cartridge in this caliber fired by 5.56 rifles. It is a military-only cartridge not available for sale anywhere on the civilian market. The M995 was outlawed under the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Action (LEOPA) of 1986, 30 years ago.
These officers were shot with common, everyday AR-15 training ammunition, either M193 (55-grain FMJ rounds) or surplus M855 “green tips,” an obsolete 62-grain bullet with a mild steel core that is not armor piercing as defined by LEOPA. M855 has since been replaced in military service due to it’s poor wounding capability, which is less than that of any other kind of 5.56 ammunition made.
Last but not least, no body armor is “bulletproof,” there are simply different levels of resistance to certain kinds of threats.
The soft body armor prefered by most law enforcement agencies and officers is only designed to stop most kinds of common handgun ammunition at moderate velocities. Any centerfire rifle bullet—even the comparatively anemic 5.56, which has about half the muzzle energy and 1/3 the projectile mass of common deer-hunting cartridges—easily penetrates soft body armor designed to stop much slower handgun bullets.
The crimes committed by serial felon John Felix are tragic enough without dishonest embellishment by Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin.
California’s criminal justice system to failed to keep a violent gang member behind bars before he murdered two police officers and attempted to murder several more.
Grandstanding now, playing tough guy prosecutor after the fact, is morally repugnant.