Dallas officer's killer has lengthy record, police say

Gunman had fled twice in two weeks

The Dallas Morning News
Officer Down: Cpl Mark Nix

DALLAS, Tex. - The man who killed a Dallas police officer Friday fled days earlier from members of a federal fugitive task force who saw him leave the Oak Cliff home of a possible associate of the feared Mexican drug enforcers, the Zetas, police said Saturday.

Mark Nix Friday also marked the second time in as many weeks that Wesley Lynn Ruiz, 27, had fled police. He also did it in 2004 and has an extensive criminal history that includes convictions for burglary of a motor vehicle, escape, theft, possession of a controlled substance, evading arrest and unlawful carrying of a weapon.

On March 14, Dallas patrol officers acting on a request by the U.S. Marshal's Dallas Fort Worth Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team tried to stop Mr. Ruiz as he left the possible Zeta associate's home so they could determine if he was the target of their investigation, police said. The name of the associate was not immediately available.

Mr. Ruiz, driving a black Lincoln LS, pulled over and gave officers his driver's license, but he sped off when they asked him to step outside the car, police said. Later that day, police found the car abandoned. In a home tied to Mr. Ruiz, officers found marijuana, bullets, ammunition magazines and scales, police said.

Ten days later, on Friday evening, Mr. Ruiz led Dallas officers on a short chase through West Dallas that ended in a gun battle that killed Senior Cpl. Mark Nix, 33. Police later found an assault rifle, including a 30-round magazine, and 200 grams of methamphetamines on Mr. Ruiz and in the car.

The chase ensued when officers tried to stop Mr. Ruiz, this time because the car he was driving, a Chevrolet Caprice, closely matched the description of a Caprice seen fleeing the scene of a slaying on Southerland Avenue in southeast Oak Cliff early Wednesday.

While trying to sort out the confusion, police on Saturday determined that Mr. Ruiz actually had only purchased the car Tuesday night, about five hours before Wednesday's slaying. Still, even though the car belonged to him at the time of the Southerland slaying, police do not believe he was involved in that shooting.

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Investigators are not sure, however, if the Caprice he was driving Friday was the one that fled Wednesday's slaying. Gang unit officers have since told homicide detectives that there are other cars around Dallas that look similar.

Regardless of whether he was involved in Wednesday's shooting, Mr. Ruiz's actions aren't a surprise to many on the police force.

"The guy has an extensive record, and he knows that he's about to be caught with firearms and a large amount of drugs," said Lt. Santos Cadena, commander of the Dallas gang unit. "He knows that with his priors, he's likely to get a lengthy sentence if caught."

Dallas police on Saturday filed a capital murder case against Mr. Ruiz in the death of Cpl. Nix. Mr. Ruiz also is accused of four counts of aggravated assault of a public servant and one count of methamphetamine possession.

As officers across the department mourned Cpl. Nix's death, investigators toiled Saturday to piece together Mr. Ruiz's background.

He is thought to have grown up in West Dallas and have drug and gang ties around the city, police said.

Despite his long criminal history, Mr. Ruiz has managed to avoid serious prison time, police said.

In addition to this month's two police chases, Mr. Ruiz was involved in another chase three years ago.

Wesley Ruiz In 2004, Mr. Ruiz was involved in a disturbance involving gunfire in the downtown area around bar-closing time. Officers tried to stop him but he fled.

Mr. Ruiz's vehicle crashed into another vehicle. He was then arrested. Police also seized several weapons in his vehicle.

The events that led to the death of Cpl. Nix, the 77th Dallas officer to die in the line of duty since 1892, began about rush hour Friday.

At 5:30 p.m., two Northwest Dallas undercover patrol officers, Senior Cpls. Jason Jarc and Patrick Starr, were driving a black pickup south on Stemmons Freeway near Mockingbird Lane when they spotted a vehicle that matched the description of one in a Wednesday morning slaying.

The red and gray Chevrolet Caprice with customized rims, driven by Mr. Ruiz, had nearly blacked-out tinted windows, and the officers could see neither the race of the driver – the suspects in the Wednesday morning slaying were black – nor how many people were in the car.

As per police department policy, the plainclothes officers in the pickup called for marked patrol cars to pull over the Caprice, which was then exiting the freeway onto Mockingbird.

As the pickup tailed the Caprice, five officers in three marked cars answered the call for assistance, which is not uncommon when trying to stop a possible murder suspect.

In the minutes it took for all three marked squads to assemble, the Caprice continued south on Mockingbird and crossed the Trinity River, where the street turns into Westmoreland Road in West Dallas.

The officers, led by Cpl. Nix, who was alone in his car, tried to pull the car over at Canada Drive.

Mr. Ruiz initially slowed, but darted away, speeding south on Westmoreland. Two blocks later, Mr. Ruiz made a fast right onto Bernal Drive, then led the pursuing officers, their lights flashing, on about a minute-long chase through a harrowing series of tree-lined "S" curves as Bernal winds through residential neighborhoods.

"He's driving really recklessly and he's trying to get away," Senior Cpl. Kimberly Crawford recalled Saturday.

She said her car was third in line, behind the Operation Disruption officers. Cpl. Nix's car remained in the lead.

Cpl. Crawford, who was in the passenger seat of her car, said she remembers the Caprice beginning to lose control. "He was fishtailing."

The Caprice finally spun out of control in the front yard of 4023 Bernal Drive, coming to rest facing the street. The back end of the car was close to the house.

"You could see gravel and smoke and everything," Cpl. Crawford said.

Cpl. Nix stopped his patrol car inches from the Caprice's front bumper. The six-year-veteran officer found himself face to face with Mr. Ruiz, separated by two engines and two windshields. With the setting sun behind the Caprice, it's unclear how much the officer could see.

Nevertheless, he made the split-second decision to act. There was no room to get behind the Caprice, it being close to the house, so with his cover officers barely pulling up, Cpl. Nix ran out of his squad car, gun in hand, and approached the passenger side window of the Caprice.

With his other hand, he yanked out his expandable baton, known as an asp, and began hammering on the window trying to break it.

The Caprice's window barely budged, held together by the heavy tint. He managed no more than a small hole when a shot came from inside the car. Police later found his baton and sidearm laying beside the car.

Mr. Ruiz fired at least one round from an assault rifle, which may have at some point jammed. The bullet pierced Senior Cpl. Nix's neck near his clavicle. He dropped to the ground. He did not fire his weapon.

The officers backing him up, however, did.

Senior Cpls. Jeremy Borchardt and Todd Haecker, who parked their car to the immediate left of Cpl. Nix's, both opened fire on Mr. Ruiz in the Caprice. So did the two undercover officers in their pickup, which was positioned about 50 feet behind Cpl. Nix's squad car, and slightly to the right. They both had a clear view of the Caprice, which was by then full of holes.

As of Saturday, investigators had counted 57 police-fired shell casings.

"There were bullets flying every which way," said Cpl. Crawford, who did not fire any rounds because there were too many police officers between her and her rookie and the suspect's car.

As the gunbattle raged, officers rushed in and drug out their mortally wounded colleague, put him in a squad car and sped to Parkland.

After an hourlong standoff, police transported Mr. Ruiz to Parkland, where he remained Saturday in serious condition. Police said he is expected to survive his injuries.

For each of the officers involved, Friday evening's violence won't soon leave their minds.

"I keep having flashbacks with Nix standing at the passenger window with his asp trying to knock out the window," Cpl. Crawford said. "It keeps going over and over."

She finally got home about 4 a.m., roughly 10 hours after the shooting. Trying to recapture some semblance of a normal routine, she went to her girls' softball practice Saturday morning.

At Wendy's after practice, Cpl. Crawford began shaking.

"My little girl was like, 'Are you OK?' The whole thing started playing in the back of my mind. She keeps saying 'Are you OK?'

"I kept saying 'I'm fine.' "

Copyright Dallas Morning News 2007

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