Members of the public, law enforcement officers and elected officials paid tribute Saturday to Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Darnell Calhoun, who was fatally shot near Lake Elsinore on Friday just two weeks after another deputy in the department was killed in the line of duty.
The deaths of the two officers are the first in nearly 20 years for the department. Sheriff Chad Bianco, speaking Friday night at a news conference shortly after Calhoun’s death was confirmed, said his department is working “in a time where there is a growing population that has absolutely zero respect for other people.”
“Nationwide, we are confronting these situations with armed individuals that, over what seem to be minor disagreements, are willing to engage law enforcement in life-and-death gun battles all too frequently,” Bianco said.
Calhoun, 30, was dispatched around 4:20 p.m. to the 18500 block of Hilldale Lane in the Lakeland Village area, just outside of Lake Elsinore, in response to a call about possible domestic violence and a child custody dispute, Bianco said.
“Deputy Calhoun was the first to arrive,” Bianco said. “At this point, we are not completely sure of the circumstances surrounding the initial contact. The second deputy arriving found our deputy wounded in the street, and a gunfight between the suspect and that deputy ensued.”
The suspect, identified Saturday as Jesse Navarro, a 42-year-old resident of Lake Elsinore, was shot by the second deputy and was in critical condition at a local hospital as of Saturday.
Nearby Lakeland Village Middle School, where students participating in an after-school program were still on campus, went on lockdown during the incident, witnesses said.
Riverside County court records indicate that in late 2021, Navarro’s wife, Yvette, had sought a restraining order against him, alleging domestic violence. However, the case appears to have been dropped in December 2021. Court records show the couple filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in July 2022.
Calhoun, who joined the sheriff’s department in February 2022 after two years working for the San Diego Police Department, was transported to nearby Inland Valley Medical Center in Wildomar. Dozens of law enforcement vehicles showed up outside the hospital, including some from Calhoun’s former job in San Diego.
‘His family was everything to him’
Kitty Alvarado, a former NBC TV reporter in the Coachella Valley who now works for KPBS in San Diego, interviewed Calhoun last year about his move from the San Diego police to the Riverside Sheriff’s Department. She said on Twitter Saturday that Calhoun’s family runs the popular Calhoun’s Texas BBQ in Murrieta and that Calhoun’s wife was expecting a baby. Calhoun had two sons, ages 2 and 4, according to the Riverside County Sheriffs’ Association.
“His family was everything to him,” Alvarado wrote. “He lit up when he spoke about them. Finally was going to spend more time with his little ones without a long commute and now another on the way.”
Shawn Sorensen, owner and broker of EXIT Alliance Realty, where Calhoun worked for a number of years, described him as “hilarious and fun to be around” and “always first to volunteer to help any of the agents on our team.” The two started working together in December 2017, she told The Desert Sun.
“I’d say he was a true team player,” said Sorensen, of Murrieta.
She added that he was a hard worker and at one point held down three jobs: at the realty office, at his family’s restaurant and at the Oak Grove Center in Murrieta, where he worked with foster and at-risk children.
‘Deputy Calhoun died a hero’
The incident marks the second fatal shooting of a Riverside County sheriff’s deputy in the last two weeks. On Dec. 29, 32-year-old deputy Isaiah Cordero was fatally shot during a traffic stop in Jurupa Valley.
Cordero had pulled over a pickup truck and the driver, 44-year-old William Shae McKay, shot the deputy as he approached the vehicle. Law enforcement pursued McKay in a manhunt that included a chase along freeways in two counties, authorities said. McKay was killed during a shootout with deputies after the truck crashed.
Bianco, who said at Friday’s news conference that he “shouldn’t be here tonight having to do this again,” mourned Calhoun and described the 30-year-old as a son and a husband who “would have been a dad.”
“I, unfortunately, said this with Deputy Cordero – there is not a person that could say a bad thing about him, and now I have to say it with Deputy Calhoun – there is not one person with one negative thing to say about him,” Bianco said. “He was the most cheerful, the most positive, the most good, wholesome man you could imagine.”
The killing of Cordero, a motorcycle patrol deputy, was the first line-of-duty death of a Riverside County sheriff’s deputy since 2003, Bianco said Friday.
The sheriff’s department is grieving, Bianco said, but the outpouring of support from the community means a lot to their deputies.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday that he and his wife were “heartbroken by the loss of Deputy Calhoun, a dedicated public servant who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.”
“Our thoughts are with his family, friends and all those he served with at the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, who are mourning the painful loss of another deputy weeks ago,” said the governor. “Deputy Calhoun died a hero and his bravery and selfless service will always be remembered.”
California Attorney General Rob Bonta also offered his condolences, saying Calhoun “represented the best of the California spirit — protecting and serving the public with valor.”
“On behalf of the nearly 6,000 men and women of the California Department of Justice, I extend our deepest condolences to Deputy Calhoun’s family, colleagues, and the entire Riverside community,” Bonta said. “His service and sacrifice will not be forgotten.”
In honor of Calhoun, flags at the State Capitol will be flown at half-staff.
The Riverside Sheriff’s Association called Calhoun’s death the loss of “another hero way too early in life.”
“Deputy Calhoun was a leader in community policing, believed in people and his ability to speak to the community with respect; meet them where they are in life; try to understand their needs; and work together to find solutions to the issues they were facing,” a statement from the association said. “To Darnell, being a police officer in San Diego and deputy in Riverside was about making the community a better and safer place for everyone. Our heartaches for the family, friends, and fellow deputies of Darnell Calhoun, and we ask everyone to take a moment to remember his selfless service.”
Bill Young, president of the Riverside Sheriff’s Association, said in a statement his heart sank when he heard the news of Calhoun’s death and described the 30-year-old as “an example of selfless service.”
“He was a dedicated deputy who enjoyed interacting with the community. In addition to protecting our community, Darnell was a loving husband and a loyal friend to so many. Darnell’s passion was to serve his community, first in San Diego and then Riverside, and he served admirably,” Young wrote. “Darnell was a devoted family man and leaves behind his cherished wife, who is pregnant. His family and serving the community were his world. Sadly now his unborn child must grow up without a devoted and loving father.”
He added: “Darnell gave his life protecting our community, and I hope people will remember that. His death is heartbreaking, and the grief his friends, family and law enforcement community are experiencing is almost unbearable.”
Late Friday, a procession of law enforcement officers escorted Calhoun’s body from Inland Valley Medical Center to the coroner’s office in Perris. On Saturday, members of the public left flowers and messages of appreciation at the Lake Elsinore sheriff’s station.
“There is no explanation or words that can make this any easier,” Lake Elsinore Councilwoman Natasha Johnson said on Facebook. “Last night lining the parking lot and streets of the hospital were the men and women who will get up today and tomorrow and the day after, to serve and protect us all. Knowing that in two weeks they lost two of their own doing what they do every day. As we stood embracing and praying each other, it didn’t matter what patch you wore, family is family.”
She added: “Darnell Calhoun was vibrant, humble, hardworking, and incredibly proud of his service and his beautiful family. His watch has come to an end but we will keep his memory alive! Rest easy, my friend.”
Palm Springs Police Chief Andy Mills said on Facebook said the “collective hearts” of himself, his wife and the entire department break for Calhoun’s family and colleagues. “Palm Springs Police Department salutes you, Deputy Calhoun.”
Local businesses and community members were organizing efforts to support the Calhoun family. Montague Brothers Coffee, a shop in Wildomar, said on its Facebook page that it was “sad to hear about the passing of Officer Calhoun; he has two children and one on the way. I am sad for his children and wife. We will be donating 25% of our sales from this Saturday and Sunday to his Widow.”
The sheriff’s department said Saturday that the second deputy who responded to the scene where Calhoun was shot will be placed on paid administrative leave according to department policy. His name has not been released.
An investigator from the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office will lead the investigation, aided by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Force Investigations Detail.
Desert Sun reporter Ema Sasic and City News Service contributed to this report.
Tom Coulter covers the cities of Palm Desert, La Quinta, Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells. Reach him at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Riverside County sheriff’s deputy Darnell Calhoun fatally shot