A White Mountain Apache police officer shot and killed during a traffic stop on tribal land Thursday evening was identified by authorities on Friday as 35-year-old Adrian Lopez Sr.
The shooting marked the state’s first line of duty death so far this year.
Another White Mountain Apache police officer was injured during a “gunbattle” with the suspect soon after the traffic stop. He was identified as 29-year-old Lonnie Thompson. He remained hospitalized in the Phoenix area with injuries that were not life-threatening as of Friday afternoon.
The suspect, 25-year-old Kevin Dwight Nashio, was killed during the shootout, officials said. He lived in Whiteriver and was known to the Police Department, but officials on Friday declined to elaborate.
The shooting was being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Meanwhile, tribal officials were working with the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office to provide updates to the public about the shooting.
‘Our tribe has lost a beacon of light’
A large photo of Lopez in his police uniform was featured throughout a news conference on Friday at the Hon-Dah Resort and Casino in Pinetop.
He had only begun working for the White Mountain Apache Police Department in January, according to Navajo County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Brian Swanty. Previously, Lopez worked for the the Bureau of Indian Affairs from March 2021 to December 2021.
A Jan. 18 Facebook post from the Police Department said he was “a lateral transfer” from the Wind River Reservation in Crowheart, Wyoming.
He leaves behind a wife and child, according to Swanty.
“Our tribe has lost a beacon of light, a bulwark against the darkness, but we have not lost hope nor faith in the future of our White Mountain Apache Tribe and in the rule of law,” White Mountain Apache Tribe Chairman Kasey Velasquez said at the news conference.
Flags on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation were ordered to be flown at half-staff in Lopez’s honor.
Thompson has been an employee and supervisor at the Police Department “for quite some time,” Swanty said.
‘None of us have seen anything of this nature’
The incident began just after 7 p.m. on Thursday when Lopez stopped a vehicle on East Fork Road in Whiteriver, according to Swanty, who said the reason for the traffic stop was still under investigation.
At some point during the traffic stop, an altercation occurred between Lopez and the vehicle’s driver, later identified as Nashio.
Lopez was shot and killed by Nashio during the altercation, Swanty said. Whether Nashio used his own weapon or Lopez’s weapon was still being investigated, according to Swanty.
Nashio then stole Lopez’s vehicle and led other White Mountain Apache police officers on an approximately 40-mile chase through “very rugged and rural areas” of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, Swanty said. There was “a rolling gunbattle” between Nashio and the officers during the chase, Swanty said.
“It’d be very, very difficult to build this scenario for a training program,” Swanty said. “As I’ve talked to my colleagues here in this room, none of us have seen anything of this nature.
“I can’t imagine what those officers were going through during this event,” Swanty continued.
Nashio ultimately crashed the police vehicle into a tree near Hawley Lake, and another “gunbattle” occurred a short time later, according to Swanty. Thompson was injured during the “gunbattle” and flown to a hospital in the Phoenix area.
While no other officers were injured during the shootout, Nashio was shot and killed, Swanty said.
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Shooting marks state’s first line of duty death in 2022
More than two years ago, White Mountain Apache police Officer David Kellywood was shot and killed in the line of duty. The 26-year-old was responding to reports of gunfire near the Hon-Dah Resort and Casino on Feb. 17, 2020, when he was shot by a man.
His death devastated the community, including Kellywood’s wife, Kamellia Kellywood, and their two sons.
In 2021, the number of officers killed in the line of duty nationally nearly doubled over the previous year, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which collects and compiles the data from various law enforcement agencies across the country. Seventy-three officers were feloniously killed in 2021, which was 27 more than the year prior, the FBI said.
Two Arizona officers were feloniously killed in 2021, which was one less than the year prior, according to the FBI’s data. Those officers were likely Chandler police Officer Christopher Farrar and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Juan Miguel Ruiz.
Officer assault data for 2021 won’t be released by the FBI until later this year, the agency said. But, there was a 5% increase in assaults on officers statewide between 2017 and 2020, according to its data.
An average of about 2,440 officers across Arizona were assaulted with about two killed each year during the same time span, the data showed.
Thursday’s fatal shooting of a White Mountain Apache police officer marked the state’s first line of duty death so far this year.
Several other Arizona police officers have been injured in shootings this year, including on Feb. 11 when five Phoenix police officers were shot and another four were injured by shrapnel. It was the most officer injuries to occur in a single incident at the Phoenix Police Department, officials said at the time.
At least 34 people have been shot at by Arizona police officers so far this year.
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