SWAT team members outside a residence in Santa Maria.
SWAT team members were called out Friday afternoon to a residence in Santa Maria where a murder suspect was believed to be hiding out. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A Lompoc homicide suspect hiding at a Santa Maria house was taken into custody Friday after a standoff that lasted more than six hours.

Walter A. Morales Jr.

Walter A. Morales Jr.

Early Friday afternoon, Walter A. Morales Jr., a suspect in the fatal shooting on Sept. 8, 2019, of an Army soldier home on leave, reportedly was seen at the residence on Thornburg Street between Enos Drive and Battles Road.

Officers converged on the area and were attempting to make contact with the suspect, Santa Maria police Cmdr. Dan Cohen said. 

“Right now, the house is contained, the SWAT team’s on scene and we’re calling in additional resources as well,” Cohen said.

A police command post was set up in the parking lot at the Minami Community Center a few blocks away as a law enforcement helicopter circled overhead for several hours.

Cohen said they were awaiting additional resources from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department. 

Members of the Lompoc Police Department also were involved in the operation.

Lompoc police Capt. Kevin Martin confirmed the operation was focused on arresting Morales.

“We haven’t 100 percent confirmed, but we believe it’s him,” Martin said.

Santa Maria police were running the tactical operation with Lompoc police set to execute the search warrant to look for evidence and take Morales into custody. 

Later Friday afternoon, police officers shouted at the house, encouraging Morales to surrender. By Friday evening, officers took more convincing measures to get Morales to leave the house.

“We deployed several levels of gas, and when we hit the highest level, he was done. He was coughing. He came out and surrendered,” Cohen said at 7:45 p.m.

Santa Maria police were preparing to hand Morales over to Lompoc counterparts, Cohen added.

“He’s in custody. It was a success,” Cohen said. 

Morales had been sought in connection with a number of shootings in Lompoc, including the killing of Army Spc. Marlon Brumfield, who was gunned down while walking near the intersection of East Ocean Avenue and A Street just before 2 a.m.

Francisco Gutierrez Ortega, 24, of Santa Maria was arrested shortly after the shooting of the 22-year-old soldier, while Morales remained on the loose.

Lompoc police said Brumfield was shot multiple times and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Authorities believe the shooting involved gang activity since both suspects are affiliated with a Lompoc criminal street gang. However, police have said they do not believe Brumfield had any gang affiliation.

Last weekend, Morales reportedly was involved in a pair of drive-by shootings, including at a vehicle that included adults and children in Lompoc.

Noting the 10-month search for the homicide suspect, Lompoc Police Chief Joe Mariani said he was happy that Morales finally landed in custody.

“This was a young man that was from our hometown here, he was serving his country and to have his life ended the way it did was just horrible,” Mariani said of Brumfield.

“I’m just so stoked today,” Mariani told Noozhawk on Friday night, adding that he has kept a photo of military tags on his bulletin board since Brumfield’s death. “Every day I look at that in hope and expectation that we would bring some closure.”

The soldier’s slaying occurred during an especially deadly year in Lompoc, with seven homicides in eight months in 2019.

Although they arrested one man linked to the shooting, investigators had suspected Morales fled to Mexico after the shooting. 

“It’s obvious he wasn’t in the area,” Mariani said.

Police remained mum about what led them to the Santa Maria residence on Friday. 

“We were able to determine he was at that location,” Mariani said, adding that numerous sightings occurred since last weekend’s shootings. 

Lompoc’s agency has a small unit of detectives who remain unwavering in their commitment to solve homicides and get justice for the victims and their families, the chief said.

“These guys were very tenacious, they were committed and they have followed a ton of leads and they’ve done a ton of investigative work to get to this point today,” Mariani said. “It’s been a long haul, but really in light of so much of what we faced this last year, for these guys to still continue to be that committed to doing this type of police work is truly exemplary. It’s very gratifying, and I’m so proud.”

The chief also expressed appreciation for the cooperation and resources provided by Santa Maria police and later the Sheriff’s Department in serving the search warrant and apprehending Morales.

“The good thing, too, is it was done without incident,” Mariani said. “It was a great tactical plan, well-thought out and managed by the Santa Maria Police Department. It all came to fruition in a very positive way.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.