NEWMAN (CBS SF) — Authorities have identified the suspect in the fatal shooting of a police officer in the town of Newman as an undocumented immigrant who appears to have Bay Area ties, the Stanislaus County Sheriff said Thursday.
Authorities believe the suspect is still in Stanislaus County. He is considered “armed and dangerous.”
Stanislaus County Sheriff posted Facebook photos of a man whom they confirmed to be the suspect. However, they did not confirm the posted name or birth date in other posts which appeared throughout the media.
A KPIX 5 reporter found what seems to be the Facebook profile for the man in the photos, though no official confirmation has been made as of Thursday evening. The profile contains photos of the man in various places, including in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.
While the Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson did not identify the suspect by name during the press conference late Thursday morning, he did say that authorities had determined that he was in United States illegally.
Late Thursday afternoon, the sheriff’s office said it was conducting a search warrant at a rural home in Merced County, roughly 12 miles from the city of Merced. They’re working to clear the home and find clues about the whereabouts of the suspect.
Police said 33-year-old Officer Ronil Singh was killed just before 1 a.m. Wednesday during a traffic stop for suspected drunk driving at Merced Street and Eucalyptus Avenue in Newman. He cried “shots fired” over the radio and then went silent.
Multiple agencies responded to assist and Singh was found at the scene with gunshot wounds. He was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A ground and air search began after the fatal incident. Authorities were looking for a man seen in surveillance photos at a convenience store shortly before the shooting.
He appeared to be a heavy man with short, dark hair, a silver chain, jeans, dark T-shirt and a dark jacket with white Ecko brand patches on the shoulders.
“We have identified a suspect in this case. We are actively pursuing every investigative lead,” said Christianson. “We will relentlessly continue to hunt our suspect down and bring them to justice.”
The sheriff pointedly contrasted the legal status of the suspect with that of the slain officer.
“Unlike Ron, who emigrated to this country lawfully and legally to pursue his lifelong career of public safety and public service by being a police officer, this suspect is in our country illegally. He doesn’t belong here. He’s a criminal,” said Christianson. “We will find him, we will arrest him and we will bring him to justice.”
Within hours of the announcement, President Donald Trump had learned of the news and tweeted about the manhunt in one of numerous appeals about the current federal government shutdown over his demand to build a border wall. “There is right now a full scale manhunt going on in California for an illegal immigrant accused of shooting and killing a police officer during a traffic stop. Time to get tough on Border Security. Build the Wall!”
The President cited the fatal shooting as another sign that U.S. needs tougher border security.
Earlier in the press conference, the Newman Police Chief Randy Richardson made an emotional plea for justice as he tearfully remembered the last time he saw Singh early Christmas morning when he relieved the officer so he could go home to his wife and infant son.
“You have to understand, this was not supposed to happen here,” said Richardson. The Newman Police Department has 12 members and had never experienced an on-the-job fatality; Richardson said they don’t even have a protocol for how to deal with an officer death. The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department is assisting with arrangements.
“I think what’s being lost here is — yes, he was a police officer, and that’s why all of you are packed in this room, because he was tragically taken from us. But what needs to be known is that he was truly just a human being and an American patriot,” said Richardson.
The chief remembered Singh being one of his first hires after taking over the department and how Singh told him he came to America to become a police officer. Richardson praised Singh for how much he loved his job and how he never seemed to be in a bad mood.
“I did not know Christmas morning, at four o’clock in the morning when I said goodbye to him and sent him off to his family, that it would be the last time that I saw him,” said a tearful Richardson.
According to census data, Newman has a population of about 11,000, of which 68.5% are Hispanic or Latino. Overall, only 25% of the population is foreign-born, meaning most of the Hispanic population was born in the U.S.
“For me as a Hispanic and stuff like that there, it hurts because there are good people here,” said Newman resident Henry Castaneda. Singh and his wife recently welcomed their first child and Castaneda recalled Singh was “a proud dad, a proud husband” who was quick to show pictures of his family.
He summed it up, “We have a cloud over us; and until this man is brought to justice there’s a cloud over us.”
Originally from Fiji, Singh came to the U.S. legally, and began as a volunteer with the Modesto Police Department. From there, stints with Turlock Animal Control, Merced County Sheriff’s Reserve, and then a police academy in Yuba County, which he attended despite the fact that it was a two and a half hour drive each way.
Singh had been on the Newman police force for more than seven years. He was a K-9 officer specializing in narcotics detection and was just one of 13 officers on the local police force.
Singh is survived by his wife, Anamika, and a 5-month-old son, authorities said. The sheriff’s department has created an official donation page to raise funds for Singh’s family.