SAN DIEGO - A man accused of shooting two sheriff's deputies who went to his Lakeside apartment to investigate allegations that he abused one of his girlfriend's daughters pleaded not guilty Thursday to three counts of attempted murder of a peace officer.
Daniel Robert Witczak, who was also wounded during a 15-minute gun battle with officers, entered the denials from his hospital bed at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest.
Witczak, 30, was overheard arguing with someone in his hospital room before he was arraigned on the felony charges and allegations that he used a high-powered rifle. The defendant had his head to one side with his eyes barely open during the hospital arraignment.
Deputy District Attorney Damon Mosler argued against bail.
“He's an extreme danger to law enforcement, the community and himself," said Mosler. "The weapon he used is an M-1 Garand; a high-powered rifle with high velocity ammunition that easily could have hit students over at El Capitan High School."
The M-1 Garand was the semi-automatic rifle used by American forces in World War II. It is now a collector's item but still lethal.
Superior Court Judge Allan Preckel ordered the defendant held without bail and scheduled a preliminary hearing for Dec. 3.
Witczak is accused of wounding Sgt. Craig Johnson and Detective Ali Perez, and shooting at -- but missing -- a California Highway Patrol officer who responded to the apartment in the 12700 block of Mapleview Street on Tuesday afternoon.
Both Johnson and Perez suffered gunshot wounds to the upper body. Johnson was listed in serious condition and Perez in critical condition.
The defendant faces up to 87 years to life in prison if convicted, but more charges are possible as authorities investigate the child abuse allegations, said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
"This shooting is a stark reminder that sworn peace officers face every day in their lives the danger of not coming home," Dumanis said after the arraignment. "When they leave their families to go to work, they're not sure what they will encounter and if they will be able to come home that night."
Dumanis said 72 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty last year in the United States.
"I want to be clear, that when an individual opens fire on a peace officer in San Diego County, the full weight of the District Attorney's Office will be brought to bear on each and every one of them," Dumanis said.
According to the suspect's girlfriend, the events that led to the gunfire began about 7:30 a.m., when she found cell-phone photos and videos of Witczak, an out-of-work auto mechanic, allegedly engaging in sex acts with her 6-year-old daughter.
She said she left their apartment to call the Sheriff's Department. Later in the morning, during a call being monitored by investigators, the suspect allegedly admitted to the crimes, claiming he had received an offer of $50,000 to post the pornographic images online.
The woman said she was still on the phone with Witczak when the detective and sergeant arrived at the couple's apartment and, a short time later, shots rang out. She said Witczak then got back on the line and told her he had shot himself, and she heard someone say, "Officers down."
A San Diego police SWAT officer who happened to by driving by when the gunfire erupted rushed to the scene of the shootout and "was instrumental" in saving Johnson and Perez from the prospect of further injury, according to a Sheriff's Department statement.
The officer, whose name has not been released, helped formulate a plan to pull the wounded deputies out of the line of fire, took part in their rescue and then rendered first-aid prior to the arrival of paramedics, officials said.
Sheriff's Cmdr. Tim Curran said the wounded lawmen were wearing bulletproof vests, as is standard department procedure. Investigators do not believe the suspect's claim that he shot himself, according to Curran.
The deputy sheriffs' group has created a donation account for Perez, who "faces a long road to recovery," the head of the agency announced.
"We are still unsure if or when he will return to work," said Dave Schaller, who is with the Deputy Sheriffs' Association. "Though he will still receive his salary, we expect this event to be a financial hardship for the Perez family, which includes two daughters in college."
Contributions to the Detective Ali Perez Support Fund may be made to any San Diego County Credit Union branch or to the Deputy Sheriffs' Association office in Poway. Credit-card donations also may be phoned in to the DSA at (858) 486-9009, ext. 100.