AZ tribal officer shot dead at traffic stop, suspect later dies in shooting

A tribal police officer was shot dead Thursday at a traffic stop in Whiteriver, Arizona, the Navajo County Sherriff’s Office (NCSO) said in a statement.

The fallen officer was later identified as Adrian Lopez Sr., 35, of the White Mountain Apache Police Department (WMAPD) ​​at a Friday news conference. Lopez joined the department in January and was previously an officer in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Lopez leaves behind a wife and child.

The suspected shooter, Kevin Dwight Nashio, 25, stole the slain officer’s vehicle and was followed by several police vehicles through the Fort Apache Indian reservation into the Hawley Lake area of ​​eastern Arizona. The pursuit lasted about 40 miles across the reserve, NSCO deputy chief Brian Swanty said in a news conference on Friday.

Swanty went on to explain that there was a “rolling exchange of gunfire” with Nashio and described the pursuit as a “chaotic event” due to the amount of dust in the air and flashing lights. As Nashio and officers exchanged gunfire between vehicles, the suspect’s vehicle crashed into a tree near the lake and engaged in a shootout with officers, during which he was “shot dead.” A second officer was injured on the ground during the gunfight.

The injured officer, later identified as Sgt. Lonnie Thompson, 29, was flown by helicopter to a hospital in the Phoenix area. Thompson’s condition was considered non-life-threatening, but thoroughly debilitating, according to Swanty.

Nashio was known to the WMAPD, but Swanty did not disclose if he had been previously arrested. Swanty also confirmed they are still investigating what the traffic delay was about.

The NSCO stated in its press release that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) would take over the lead of the investigation.

“None of us had seen anything like that. I can’t imagine what these officers went through during this event,” Swanty said during Friday’s news conference.

“This is a time of mourning for the White Mountain Apache Tribe,” Kasey Velasquez, chairman of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, said at the press conference.

The WMAPD recently experienced a similar tragedy when “Officer David Kellywood, 26, was killed in February 2020 while responding to a report of shots being fired outside a casino,” the Star Tribune reported via the Associated Press. “He fought with a suspect who then shot him. A second officer fatally shot the suspect.”

Follow Ethan Letkeman on Twitter at @EthanLetkeman.

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