SALINAS — The man accused of fatally shooting a Salinas police officer during a traffic stop last weekend has pleaded not guilty to murder.
Gustavo Matias Morales was arraigned Tuesday on a murder charge with a special circumstance for killing a police officer, the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office said.
DA’s Office officials say he could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole, if he is convicted.
Salinas Police Officer Jorge David Alvarado was killed during a shootout that erupted after he pulled over a car late Friday.
Morales was arrested when he showed up at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital with a gunshot wound.
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Investigators have not said what was the traffic violation or what led to the shootout.
Alvarado’s death was the first of a police officer in the line of duty in nearly 80 years in Salinas, Mayor Kimbley Craig said.
He was a five-year veteran of the Police Department who previously served in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Afghanistan, officials said. Alvarado, 30, was soon to wed his fiancée.
Morales is scheduled to return to court on March 22, KION-TV reported.
The hearing took place before a vigil in Salinas to honor Alvarado, whose death has hit he community hard.
“We’ve had a really rough few days here in Salinas,” Craig said. “Our officers are grieving and I would note, our community is starting to embrace our public safety departments. I just want to say thank you for that.”
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Salinas Californian: Man pleads not guilty to killing Salinas police officer