OC Officers Who Shot 76 Rounds and Killed Pursuit Suspect Cleared of Criminal Wrongdoing

One officer has been fired and another has been disciplined.

One of the officers involved in a lethal officer-involved shooting in Anaheim last July has been fired and another will be disciplined, the city's police chief announced Wednesday on the heels of a report released by the District Attorney's Office, which declined to file any criminal charges but called the shooting "alarming" and "irresponsible."

The fired officer, Kevin Pedersen, was in a first year probationary period at the time of the July 21 shooting, according to Chief Jorge Cisneros.

Pedersen and Officer Sean Staymates, who has been served with "an intent to discipline notice," fired 76 rounds at 50-year-old Eliuth Penaloza Nava during a police pursuit, according to a report released by the Orange County District Attorney's Office on the shooting.

Pedersen's "overall performance fell far short of what the department and community expects,'' Cisneros told reporters, but declined to specifically comment on Staymates because he "has a right to due process."

Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu said video of the deadly encounter was "disturbing."

"I share the disappointment of all who have seen this video," Sidhu said. "Whatever led to this incident, a loss of life is tragic and my heart goes out to the family as they see the loss of their loved one in the video."

The mayor added that no matter "however unsettling" the video may be, the city "has taken a major step forward in how we share information about public safety," referring to release of the body-worn camera footage.

"In this incident we failed what we expect of ourselves and what the community demands of us," Sidhu said. "We cannot change the past. Instead, we will be judged by how we respond to this. I want to recognize the action taken by Chief Cisneros and his team. They leave no doubt about his commitment to uphold the trust the community places in our police department. I also want to recognize the men and women of the Anaheim Police Department. This incident does not represent our department."

The mayor said he wanted the public to "know this incident has been addressed at the highest level of our city with the decisive action the chief has taken."

Cisneros said additional training of the department's officers has been ongoing since December. The city is also in the process of acquiring a state-of-the-art simulator to bolster training, he said.

Out of 200,000 police encounters last year, "99.9% resulted in a peaceful resolution without the use of force," Cisneros said. "While this was not our finest hour, it would be wrong to judge our professional employees by a single encounter."

The chief said he and Sidhu have met with Nava's family, with whom he lived in the 500 block of South West Street.

In the days prior to the shooting, he had "been acting strange," Deputy District Attorney Scott Woolridge said in a letter addressed to the chief, laying out the findings and legal conclusions of the D.A.'s office on the officer-involved shooting.

Nava "had a history of drug abuse" and his parents "feared that Nava was using drugs again," Woolridge wrote.

On the morning of the shooting, his family went to check on him and saw he had a gun in his vehicle, so they alerted one of his brothers with whom he did not get along and had previously attacked, according to the prosecutor.

The brother called police saying Nava was hallucinating under the influence of drugs and had a knife and gun in his Chevrolet pickup truck.

Pedersen, who was driving, and Staymates were dispatched to the house. When they arrived, Nava drove away from them, triggering the pursuit.

The officers could see Nava reach down in the truck during the chase, prompting Pedersen to say, "Get ready, dude, he just rolled down the window. He's reaching," then caught sight of a gun that appeared to be a Glock, according to the report.

During the pursuit, Pedersen told his partner he was going to try to "ram" the suspect's truck, then fired about seven rounds through the front windshield of the police cruiser toward Nava's vehicle, the report says. As the chase continued, Pedersen fired another six rounds.

"Officer Pedersen continued to fire in fear that Nava may start to randomly shoot civilians in the area," Woolridge wrote. "Officer Pedersen believed he was always aware of his surroundings, and fired only after considering the safety of the nearby citizens."

Nava continued to brandish the gun during the chase and as Pedersen reloaded his gun, he told his partner to open fire, according to the report, which says Staymates fired a rifle at the suspect.

At some point during the chase, Pedersen told his partner, "Don't take a shot, don't take a shot, there's people in front of us," Woolridge wrote.

Nava appeared to be wounded during the pursuit but kept going, the prosecutor said. The suspect almost crashed into a woman's car during the chase, which ended back at the suspect's home.

Nava "did not put his hands up in the air, or give any indication that he was surrendering," Woolridge wrote.

The officers feared the suspect would shoot at them, so Staymates opened fire, pumping eight rounds into the back of the pickup truck. As Nava appeared to be getting out of the truck, Pedersen fired about four more rounds at him, then Staymates fired another four rounds at the suspect, the report says.

Continuing to fear a gun battle, Pedersen fired another eight rounds at Nava and, as he advanced on the suspect on foot, he fired another 10 rounds, Woolridge wrote. As the rookie officer got closer to the truck, he fired another nine rounds, according to the prosecutor.

Pedersen fired a final three rounds as he inched closer, then the suspect was dragged out of the truck and Pedersen kicked Nava's gun away, according to the report, which says a knife was found in the suspect's right hand. He was pronounced dead at 10:12 a.m. at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange.

The suspect's gun turned out to be a CO2-powered air pistol that looked like a 9mm Luger pistol, according to Woolridge.

The report says Nava was shot at least nine times in the head, neck and upper body. Pedersen fired 64 shots, and Staymates fired a dozen times.

An autopsy showed Nava was under the influence of amphetamines and methamphetamines. He had a criminal history, dating back to 1997, of domestic violence, assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest, smuggling drugs into jail, drug possession eluding police and driving under the influence of drugs, according to Woolridge, who concluded that the officers "were justified in believing that Nava posed a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to both officers and to others."

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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