Surprise, Surpise: OC DA Rules Fatal Anaheim Police Shooting of Marcel Ceja Justified

marcel_ceja.jpg
Marcel Ceja
The deadly officer-involved shooting of 22 year-old Marcel Ceja in Anaheim on November 4, 2011 has been ruled "reasonable and justified" by the Orange County District Attorney (OCDA). A letter dated yesterday and addressed to Anaheim Police Chief John Welter detailed the findings of the eight-page report.

The conclusion of there being no "criminal culpability" on behalf of the officer's actions was not directly communicated to Barbara Padilla, Ceja's mother, or any other family members.

As the investigation recounts, Ceja was walking down Ball Road close to noontime with two companions, one of which a juvenile, on that day when patrol officer David Garcia made eye contact with them but continued driving on. The three were described as "wearing baggy sweatshirts with their hoods pulled over their heads." The policeman returned as Ceja and his companions began walking in a different direction.

That's when officer Garcia exited his patrol car, baton in hand and initiated the alleyway  encounter.

According to the report, at one point Ceja turned, ran away, and a semi-automatic pistol was thrown either intentionally or unintentionally as he tripped and fell. Officer Garcia contacted dispatch and in a consensual statement claimed that Ceja rolled over and appeared to be "manipulating something in his sweatshirt pocket" while ignoring commands. Fearing that it was a second gun, the policeman, believing his life to be in danger, fired two rounds, one striking Ceja in the chest, the other in the left abdomen. The ditched pistol was recovered at the scene. There was no second gun.

The wounds Ceja sustained proved to be fatal as he was transferred to UCI Medical Center in Orange and pronounced dead two hours after arriving.

The OCDA found officer Garcia's argument of self-defense to be "reasonable under the circumstances" because, in addition the version of the encounter leading up the shooting, it took place in a neighborhood of gang-related activity. Ceja's attire and neck tattoo were also cited.

In the course of the investigation, 68 witnesses were interviewed, of which three were cited by the report, all corroborating key aspects of Officer Garcia's account. The justification of a Latino officer's fatal shooting of a young Latino man comes at a time when bonus pay for speaking Spanish is considered as a way the Anaheim Police Department can work more closely with the community.

It also comes at a time when contentious officer-involved shootings in the city, and their justifications, are coming under greater scrutiny. Just last month, members of United Survivors of Anaheim, an organization of grieving family members demanding accountability, held a demonstration near the site of Ceja's shooting in his memory.

When news of the OCDA's findings finally (and informally) reached Padilla yesterday evening, she reportedly was furious.

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