Crime

Morro Bay police officers on paid leave after shooting suspected burglar

Morro Bay shooting news conference

Morro Bay City Manager David Buckingham and police Chief Amy Christey give details about the officer-involved shooting that occurred Friday, Oct. 30, 2015.
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Morro Bay City Manager David Buckingham and police Chief Amy Christey give details about the officer-involved shooting that occurred Friday, Oct. 30, 2015.

Two Morro Bay police officers are on paid administrative leave while authorities investigate the shooting of a burglary suspect early Friday after the suspect allegedly hit one of the officers on the head with what police called a “blunt object” near Morro Rock.

Morro Bay officials said Friday afternoon they are confident the two officers followed procedure in the incident, in which the burglary suspect suffered a nonlife-threatening gunshot wound to the leg. Both he and the officer were treated at local hospitals.

Charges against the suspected burglar are pending, and the District Attorney’s Office is investigating the shooting.

At a news conference Friday afternoon, Morro Bay police Chief Amy Christie identified the man who was shot as Alec Bryan Stephenson, 20, a homeless man who Christie said was arrested weeks ago on suspicion of vehicle burglary. Stephenson was hospitalized Friday evening.

Several hours before the alleged burglary, officers talked to Stephenson around midnight while responding to a report of suspicious activity around vehicles near the Harbor Department building on the Embarcadero, Christie said.

According to the Police Department’s timeline of events, the following occurred:

At 6:43 a.m., police received a call from someone who reported seeing a man breaking into the Good Flea 2nd Hand Store on the 300 block of Quintana Road. The caller followed the suspected burglar, who was on a bicycle, from the store toward the Embarcadero.

Two Morro Bay police officers, Dale Cullum and Maria Lomeli, located the caller, who told them the suspect had ridden his bike toward Morro Rock.

The officers confronted Stephenson, who they believed was the suspect, near Coleman Park. Stephenson hit Cullum in the head with a “blunt object.” Cullum pulled his gun and fired a single round, hitting Stephenson in the leg.

Neither officer deployed a Taser, Christie said. Christie said she did not have more information regarding Stephenson’s weapon, how far away he was when he was shot, or Cullum’s injury.

Medical personnel arrived and treated Stephenson at the scene before taking him to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, where he remained in fair condition as of Friday afternoon, according to hospital officials. Cullum was also treated at the scene and taken to French Hospital Medical Center; he was later released.

Officials did not say whether Stephenson stole anything from the store. Charges against him were pending, and bail information was not immediately available Friday afternoon.

The owner of the Good Flea told The Tribune on Friday that her front window was broken but she hadn’t yet conducted an inventory to see whether anything was taken.

As a matter of protocol, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office will assist in the investigation into the alleged burglary and assault on an officer. The District Attorney’s Office is conducting a separate investigation into the shooting, which is also standard procedure, according to Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham.

Both Cullum and Lomeli will remain on paid administrative leave until the investigation is complete.

According to police records, Cullum has been with the Police Department since January 2010, and Lomeli was hired last year.

Court records show Stephenson entered a plea of no contest to a misdemeanor charge of petty theft in a separate case Thursday. He was convicted in August 2014 of resisting an officer, a misdemeanor.

On Friday afternoon, Christie said she was proud of the officers’ conduct and confident the investigation will reveal they followed procedure.

“We are thankful for their professionalism and that they’re safe,” Christie said.

She added that the last officer-involved shooting in Morro Bay was in 2001 and the city’s officers only assisted officers from another department in that incident.

As of Friday afternoon, an arraignment hearing had yet to be scheduled for Stephenson in San Luis Obispo Court.

Staff Writer Nick Wilson contributed to this story.

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