One California law enforcement officer was killed and two were wounded during a shootout in Sacramento, where SWAT officers swarmed a hotel and directed terrified guests to shelter in place for fear additional suspects had holed up inside.

The dramatic scene unfolded at a Ramada Inn off the Capital City Freeway, Sergeant Tony Turnbull, a spokesman for the Sacramento Country Sheriff's Department, told the Washington Post.

It was there, hours earlier, that Deputy Robert French, 52, was shot by a suspect attempting to flee from officers intending to serve a search warrant in connection with an alleged car theft. French later succumbed to his wounds.

Three people, including the alleged gunman, are in custody, officials said.

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Authorities, fearing others may be armed and hiding inside, ordered the hotel and surrounding businesses locked down while they hunted for other signs of trouble. An all-clear was declared and investigators have moved in to begin assessing and collecting evidence, said Sergeant Shaun Hampton, another sheriff's department spokesman.

"At this time," Hampton said, "we do not believe anyone else involved is outstanding. There's no further threat at the hotel or in the surrounding areas, to our knowledge, but there will be some road closures for the foreseeable future."

The incident began when gunfire rang out as officers with the California Highway Patrol and Sacramento sheriff's deputies attempted to enter one of the hotel rooms, Turnball said.

As they approached the room and identified themselves, a man inside fired on them through the door, striking two highway patrol officers with an unspecified number of rifle rounds. Those officers are in stable condition, Turnbull said. Their names have not been released.

The suspect then moved to the room's balcony and fired on officers positioned below, hitting French, a father and grandfather who spent 21 years with the department. Turnbull described the suspect's weapon as a high-powered assault rifle with a high-capacity magazine.

The suspect jumped to the ground and led police on a 5km high-speed chase before crashing into a utility pole. He emerged from the vehicle, a dark Dodge Charger, and exchanged more gunfire with police.

The man was shot by police moments later and taken into custody. Photos taken at the scene show him being led away in handcuffs.

Before the shootout erupted, two women had been detained at the hotel after leading authorities there in a separate high-speed chase. They were seen stealing a car several kilometres away, Turnbull said, and were pursued there by members of a joint auto theft task force.

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Authorities have not released names or ages for any of three people in custody.

"This is certainly the most difficult thing a department can go through," Sheriff Scott Jones said. "We'll survive this as a community. We've been through it before. But it is painful. It will take a period of grieving."