Richard Winton Los Angeles Times
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Orange County prosecutors Wednesday released dramatic video showing two Anaheim police officers firing 76 shots at a suspect during a high-speed pursuit that the district attorney’s office called “alarming and irresponsible.”
One of the officers has been fired, and the other faces potential internal discipline after firing through the windshield of a police cruiser at a man they believed to be armed, ultimately killing him.
Eliuth Penaloza Nava, 50, was struck by at least nine bullets.
Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer’s office on Wednesday released videos of the incident and a letter analyzing the deadly shooting. Prosecutors, while finding that the officers ultimately acted legally because of the threat of what they believed to be a real gun in the hands of a man high on narcotics, took the unusual step of questioning the officers’ behavior.
“The fact that the two involved officers discharged their weapons 76 times, from a moving patrol car at Nava’s moving car, at approximately 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, in a residential neighborhood where residents, including children, were home and on the streets, was alarming and irresponsible based on the totality of all the circumstances in this specific case,” the report stated.
The “conclusion that all of the available evidence is insufficient to warrant the filing of criminal charges against the two officers should not in any way diminish the fact that [this office] is alarmed by this conduct,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Wooldridge wrote.
Officer Kevin Pedersen, the driver of the police cruiser during the pursuit, was terminated as a probationary officer, and Officer Sean Staymates, a 10-year veteran, faces potential discipline and remains on administrative leave, Anaheim Police Chief Jorge Cisneros said.
The six-minute video, described by Cisneros as “disturbing” and “difficult” to watch, shows officers firing a handgun and rifle repeatedly during the pursuit through a busy area of Anaheim on July 21, 2018.
The deadly incident unfolded after Nava’s brother called police about 9:30 a.m. and reported that the man had ingested an unknown drug and was “hallucinating” and armed with a knife and gun inside his Chevy truck, according to prosecutors.
About 15 minutes later, Staymates and Pedersen responded to the home in a residential area and attempted to block Nava’s truck. But Nava saw them and drove toward the officers’ car, ending up alongside them, prosecutors said. When the officers got out of their car with guns drawn and ordered Nava out of the truck, he ignored them and sped away, according to the report.
As the pursuit began, Staymates declared, “Give us some distance,” according to the video. But Pedersen replied, “I’m going to ram him,” and fired a series of gunshots at the truck. Pedersen told Staymates to start shooting with his rifle.
Pedersen is seen on video firing at Nava’s pickup truck, reloading his handgun several times and firing through the police car’s windshield and driver’s side window.
Pedersen also directed Staymates to hold his fire with the rifle because of the risk of danger to bystanders as they headed through heavily trafficked areas.
“Suspect is hit. We know he’s bleeding,” one of the officers can be heard saying in the video. “I think I hit his head,” Staymates said, according to the report, as the truck stopped.
“Both officers feared that as the driver door opened, Nava would pop out and fire at the officers and/or any individuals in the surrounding area. This fear was based on Nava’s actions of pointing a gun at them several times, leading them in pursuit, and displaying a total disregard for public safety,” the report stated.
The video shows the officers walking toward the pickup truck firing rapidly as Nava’s body comes into view.
“Alright he’s done, he’s done,” one of the officers said. Pedersen then fires three more shots before the gunfire ends, the report stated.
Pedersen is seen removing Nava from the truck and kicking away an object. Nava died at a hospital a short time after the chase. His blood tested positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines.
The report noted that Nava’s gun was a CO2-powered air pistol, similar in appearance to an authentic 9-millimeter Luger pistol.
Five witnesses told investigators they believed Nava had a handgun, and two of them said he shot three rounds, the report stated.
Pedersen was determined to have fired his weapon 64 times; Staymates, meanwhile, fired 12 shots with his rifle.
The Orange County district attorney’s office concluded in its investigation that a jury would “justly” conclude it was reasonable for the officers to think their lives and those of others were in danger during the incident.
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