An Anaheim police officer was justified in fatally shooting a man he said he saw drop a pistol and who refused to show his hands after a foot chase in 2011, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s review of the case released this week.
Officer David Garcia said he expected Marcel Ceja to give up after tripping on a grassy knoll on Nov. 4, 2011, but that when he didn’t take his hand out of his pocket, he feared Ceja was going to pull out a second gun and shoot.
“Since he was not doing what I expected, I immediately started believing he had another gun,” Garcia told DA’s investigators 9 days after the incident. “I was yelling at him, ‘Let me see your hands.’ He was ignoring my commands.”
Garcia fired two bullets from his department-issue Glock 9-mm pistol, killing Ceja. He was 22.
The incident happened during a chase while Garcia was patrolling a neighborhood on East Ball Road that police said had a documented history of gang problems and drug trafficking.
The D.A.’s review of the case, made public Dec. 6, is the latest involving a police agency that has been under scrutiny since two fatal back-to-back police shootings this summer prompted protests and calls for reform in Anaheim.
The report, filed whenever an officer in Orange County either wounds or kills someone in a shooting, includes interviews of witnesses, statements by the officer and other evidence to determine whether there is any criminal culpability on the part of the officer.
At the request of many Orange County police agencies, the DA’s Office has been posting for the last several years its police shooting reviews on its website, officials said.
While the D.A. has charged police officers with crimes, no criminal filings have been lodged against officers involved in police shootings, said D.A. spokeswoman Farrah Emami.
Ceja’s mother, Barbara Padilla, who has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the Anaheim Police Department, is not surprised by the D.A.’s findings.
“That was my youngest son. I can’t get my life back in order,” she said. “The whole family is just devastated by this.”
Police said Ceja was a documented gang member with a lengthy criminal history. They said they found a loaded pistol at the scene and that he dropped it during a foot chase with Garcia who stopped in the neighborhood because Ceja and two others looked suspicious as they were walking with baggy sweatshirts and hoods pulled over their heads on Ball Road, according to the D.A.’s report on the case.
Ceja bolted when Garcia tried to ask him and his friends questions and a foot chase began.
It ended when Ceja tripped and refused the officer’s orders to show his hands, the report said. At least two other witnesses backed up the officer’s account, the report said.
One witness told D.A.’s investigators that it appeared Ceja was trying to get something out of his pocket, but it wouldn’t come out. He said he couldn’t hear what was said because his car windows were rolled up, but it appeared that Ceja was “uncooperative and angry as he yelled at the officer.”
Another witness told investigators she heard Garcia yell at least three times for Ceja to remove his hand from his pocket before hearing shots fired.
Investigators recovered a loaded .380 caliber pistol from the scene and said that a DNA profile taken from the gun showed it had been handled by Ceja, the report said.