Phillip Campas was a former US Marine and a sheriff’s deputy with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. Photo courtesy of the Peace Officers Research Association of California. Composite by Joshua Skovlund/Coffee or Die Magazine.
A California SWAT sheriff’s deputy and SWAT team member, who was also a Marine combat veteran, was killed Sunday while attempting to rescue hostages in central California.
Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Phillip Campas was one of four deputies hit by gunfire and shrapnel during a raid of a home where a man, police later discovered, had murdered his wife and sons.
The suspect was later killed by police when he emerged on the roof of the Wasco home, holding a rifle. Wasco is in Kern County, just outside Bakersfield, about two hours north of Los Angeles.
At a press conference Monday, Sheriff Donny Youngblood said Campas was one of the department’s finest officers.
“Deputy Campas touched everybody in this organization — five years, everybody knew who he was,” said Youngblood. “He was just a star in our organization. When you talk about police officers that run towards gunfire, that’s him.”
The department held a procession for Campas Tuesday. Roughly 15 motorcycle officers led the procession, which stretched to 50-odd police and first responder vehicles. According to the Kern Law Enforcement Association Facebook page, Campas was named the Deputy of the Year in 2019. A video accompanying that award includes several pictures of him wearing a distinctive Marine Corps campaign hat, which is generally only worn by recruit drill instructors, though details of his Marine career were unavailable.
The shooting unfolded after police responded to 911 calls from neighbors saying a man, now identified by the county coroner as Jose Manuel Ramirez Jr., had shot people inside the family home. When sheriff’s deputies arrived at the house, they were shot at from inside.
Deputies Campas and Dizander Guerrero were both shot when the SWAT team made an initial approach to the home. The Kern County Sheriff’s Office said that as the team approached the front door, Ramirez opened fire and hit two deputies with gunfire, also causing shrapnel to injure two others.
Campas and Guerrero were pulled away by other deputies and taken to a local hospital, where Campas was declared dead. The remainder of the SWAT team stayed on the scene as negotiators spoke with Ramirez, who continued to shoot at the SWAT team intermittently.
After several hours, Ramirez attempted to climb onto the roof with an AK-47 and was shot by police. Inside the home, police found the bodies of Ramirez’ wife, Viviana, 42, and sons, Jose, 24, and Angel, 17.
Campas served as a deputy for five years and was a Marine combat veteran, with at least one deployment to Afghanistan.
Campas is survived by a wife and two children. Throughout his time at the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, he worked as a patrol deputy, SWAT team member, honor guard member, recruit training officer, and range instructor.
The Peace Officers Research Association of California has established a fundraiser for Campas’ family.
Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion.
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