San Diego Harbor Police cruiser
A San Diego Harbor Police cruiser. Photo by Chris Stone

A 29-year-old man was behind bars Tuesday for allegedly opening fire on a harbor police officer during a traffic stop in front of the San Diego Convention Center, prompting a shootout during which a bystander was struck by a bullet but avoided serious injury through sheer luck.

The stray round hit the witness in the buttocks during the exchange of gunfire alongside San Diego Bay on Monday night, but he happened to have an eyeglasses case in his back pocket that kept the slug from breaking his skin, according to San Diego police.

The events that led to the shootout began about 7 p.m., when the San Diego Harbor Police officer saw a motorist in a black Honda Accord run a red light at First Avenue and Harbor Drive, Lt. Andra Brown said.

The lawman followed the driver and pulled him over four blocks to the south, Brown said. Suspecting that the motorist might be intoxicated, the officer asked him to step out of his car for a sobriety evaluation.

The driver complied, but immediately pulled a gun and opened fire on the officer, who responded by returning fire, then retreated and took cover behind his cruiser. A short time later, the assailant came out with his hands up and was taken into custody.

Authorities did not immediately release the names of the arrestee or the officer, who has been with the Harbor Police Department for about three years.

Though apparently unscathed by the near-miss, the pedestrian who was grazed by the stray bullet was taken to a hospital for a precautionary evaluation.

As it turned out, the shootout occurred during an unrelated live news report in the area by Fox5 reporter Jeff McAdam, who later posted images of its aftermath on social media.

During the video, numerous gunshots can be heard before McAdam moves out of frame and the camera pans to a police cruiser stopped behind another vehicle. A man in a long-sleeve shirt then can be seen approaching the cruiser, his hands in the air.

The SDPD Homicide Unit was called in to investigate the case, which is standard procedure in all instances of law enforcement shootings in the city, whether or not they result in a fatality.

–City News Service

Updated at 12:10 p.m. March 2, 2021