Shots fired at Chula Vista strip mall: Police say off-duty BP agent fired at theft suspects

Incident in 500 block of Telegraph Canyon Rd.

CHULA VISTA, Calif. - An off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent opened fire at a South Bay strip mall Tuesday on a car occupied by an alleged shoplifter, after which the suspected thief and at least three other cohorts sped off and escaped into the surrounding neighborhood, police reported.

The events that led to the shooting began shortly after 11 a.m., when employees at a Rite Aid store in the 500 block of Telegraph Canyon Road in Chula Vista saw two men walk out of the business with merchandise -- a tablet-style computer -- that was not purchased, according to Chula Vista police.

Two clerks followed the men into an adjacent parking lot, where they got into a large late-model sedan occupied by a woman and teen, police said. The federal officer, meanwhile, somehow became aware of what was going on and decided to intervene.

Police said when the car reversed direction, it nearly struck the agent.

Moments later, the agent, who was not in uniform, pulled a pistol and fired at least two rounds at the dark-colored car, which then sped away to the west. Officers searched in vain for the sedan and the suspects by ground and aboard a police helicopter.

Police told 10News a witness heard the agent yell, "Drop the gun," before opening fire.

"I just heard the two shots," said Gary Baldwin, who was inside a nearby storefront. "I got down on the ground, looked out the window, see the guy run across, go behind the pickup, see a car backing out."

Baldwin and other witnesses described the agent as "clean-cut" but said they had no idea he was a federal officer.

One witness thought she was seeing a drug cartel-style hit taking place, but was relieved to learn no bystanders were hurt.

Investigators found no evidence that the gunfire had injured anyone, though they suspected that at least one bullet struck the vehicle, variously described as a Lincoln Continental or Town Car, or a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, police said.

Witnesses said one of the suspected shoplifters was a roughly 5-foot-4-inch Hispanic or black man wearing dark pants and a white shirt.

The government agent, whose name was withheld, remained at the scene and was being questioned by detectives. His exact rationale for firing on the suspect remained under investigation, according to police.

Carlos Vega said he saw a woman trying to shove a bicycle into the trunk of the car right before the shooting. When the car sped off, its occupants left behind a red canvas carryall bag, some Styrofoam chunks and a new-looking box for an electric skillet.

Police don't know whether the suspects had been stealing other items from stores in the shopping center, but they said people inside the Rite Aid store claim to have seen the suspects casing it before grabbing the tablet and running outside to the waiting car.

Police are checking local emergency rooms to see if any gunshot victims are seeking treatment. They don't know if anyone inside the car was injured.

The suspects have not yet been apprehended.

A spokesman for the Border Patrol declined to comment on the shooting, referring all questions to Chula Vista police.

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