SANTA MARIA - Friends of 23 year old Jose Luis Ortega say he knew he was wanted by local law enforcement for violating his parole and that he knew when they found him he was going back to prison.
A Dallas Cowboys football jersey is part of a growing makeshift memorial to 23 year old Jose Luis Ortega at the location in a Santa Maria alleyway where he died Thursday morning.
"I couldn't believe it", says Ortega's longtime friend Lecilla Cano, "I mean he didn't deserve to die."
Ortega was shot and killed by pursuing law enforcement officers who say he had a gun in his possession.
"A whole police department that was here couldn't have tackled him or tased him?" Cano asks, "I mean it was just him alone."
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department says Thursday morning's shooting culminated a joint operation with the Santa Maria Police Department in tracking Ortega and then trying to arrest him as a known gang member who was in violation of his parole.
"He did have warrants", Cano admits about her friend, "the only reason he didn't turn himself in is because he knew he was going to go back to prison."
The Sheriff's Department says when deputies and police officers moved in to arrest Ortega, he jumped out of the car he was riding in and tried to flee the area.
The Sheriff's Department and witnesses we've spoken with say Ortega was ordered down on the ground, and then the witnesses say they heard gunshots ring out.
"We're trying to determine who fired the shots, how many were fired", said Sheriff's Department spokesperson Drew Sugars after the shooting on Thursday, "we do know at this point though that he was armed, he was shot and he died at the scene."
Ortega's friends say they dispute the Sheriff's Department claim he had a gun while he was trying to flee, they also say there's an eyewitness who claims to have seen the shooting from his second-floor motel room across Bunny Avenue.
"He told me that he didn't want to be involved but he said he would because he didn't think what he saw was right", Cano says about what the eyewitness told her, "he said the officers were telling him (Ortega) to get down at the same time they were shooting him."
Friends say Jose Ortega was once a student at Lompoc high school but dropped out and never graduated.
They say he began getting into trouble as a juvenile and eventually joined a gang before going off to prison on drug charges.
His friends say Ortega was trying to break free from his past and start a new life away from the gang,
"Yeah he couldn't get out", says Ortega's friend Samuel Gomez, "it was just too hard for him to get out, he told me."
Ortega's cousin fights back tears as she shows an email he sent her last month telling her he regretted his mistakes and wished he could go back and live his life again.
The Sheriff's Department is waiting before it releases more information about the shooting death of Jose Ortega, why he was being followed Thursday morning and who it was that fired that shots that killed him, were they the County Sheriff's deputies or Santa Maria Police officers.
"I mean I'm not a police officer or sheriff", Cano says, "but I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to know you don't have to kill a man to know you have him in your custody, I mean, I don't get it."
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department says the shooting remains an ongoing investigation.
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