Man who shot officer in City Heights tunnel gets life term

Posted at 11:04 AM, Jun 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-22 17:54:13-04

A career criminal who shot a San Diego police officer in a dark drainage tunnel at the end of a vehicle chase and foot pursuit through City Heights in 2013 was sentenced Wednesday to 54 years to life in state prison.

Ignacio Canela, 33, was convicted earlier this month of premeditated attempted murder in the Oct. 24, 2013 shooting that seriously injured Officer Timothy Bell, who had been in the department for five years. Canela was also convicted of drug and weapons charges and evading police with reckless driving.

Superior Court Judge Frederic Link originally pronounced a sentence of 40 years to life plus 15 years and four months, but that was recalculated to 40 years to life plus 14 years, according to Deputy District Attorney Michael Runyon.

Link said Canela started committing crimes when he was 13, stealing cars and selling drugs.

"He's a criminal," Link said of the defendant. "He violates almost every rule that society has put up. He tried to kill a police officer."

Link said Bell would probably be dead if not for the protective vest he was wearing that day.

Bell, 31, has been placed on disability because of his injuries, and more needs to be done to help him after he put his life on the line to stop Canela, the judge said.

Bell's wife, Priscilla, said in a letter to the court that she and her children were playing in the park when they got the news that her husband had been shot. She said her children were worried that they were going to lose their father that day.

Priscilla Bell said her husband lost his dream job because of the defendant's violent actions.

"We have every right to hate you, (but) we forgive you," the wife said.

Runyon told jurors that Canela -- who was wanted on drug charges and for failure to appear in court -- led officers on a chase from a home on Wightman Street to a dead-end in the 3000 block of Central Avenue, where he ditched his car and took off running into a canyon.

Bell pursued Canela and followed him into the drainage tunnel, where he tried to use his Taser on the suspect. They got into a physical confrontation, and Canela told the officer, "I give up," according to Runyon.

Bell tried to push Canela away and the defendant starting shooting, striking the officer four times, including once in the left arm, the prosecutor said. The officer was able to escape the tunnel as Canela fired at him, Runyon said.

Canela ran through the tunnel and was arrested about a half-hour later. A firearm was later recovered near where Canela was taken into custody.

Canela testified that Bell tried to pistol-whip him with his own gun, but the gun went off and the officer fell to the ground. The defendant said he saw a gun in Bell's left hand, so he picked up his gun off the ground and fired toward the officer's left arm.

Canela said he fired a couple more rounds toward the officer, and Bell took off running out of the tunnel.

Canela said he shot the officer in self-defense.

"I was trying to save my life," Canela told his attorney, Jane Kinsey. "I wasn't trying to hurt him. He had a weapon."

Runyon said Canela also ran from police in 2004 and had a modified knife in his back pocket when he was arrested.

When asked by an officer why he ran, Canela responded, "I don't like pigs," Runyon told the jury.

Canela also fled from police in a stolen SUV in December 2007, crashed into a parked car and took off running before being arrested, according to the prosecutor, who said officers recovered a loaded revolver from Canela in that incident.

"Kill or be killed" was Canela's state of mind when confronted by the officer, Kinsey said. She said her client was so "bent" on getting away that he jumped out of his car at the entrance to the canyon while it was still moving.

Canela has been to prison four times for vandalism, evading, burglary and drug convictions.