Surprise, Surprise, Part 2: OC DA Rules Another Anaheim Police Shooting Death Justified
A letter dated Monday and addressed to Anaheim Police Chief John Welter outlined the findings of the nine-page report released ten months after the killing occurred.
The controversial shooting set off a wave of protests in the Wakefield neighborhood near the Anaheim GardenWalk where it occurred, and was a precursor to the simmering unrest in the city that boiled over in July.
As the investigation recounts, officers responded to a 911 call on the night of March 6, claiming that five or six males--two armed--were standing outside a white car shouting their gang affiliations in the alleyway of an apartment complex off of East Wakefield Street.
Anaheim police officers Dan Hurtado, Ray Drabek and Mike Brannigan responded, and approached the alleyway on foot. Hurtado positioned himself at the west end armed with a Bushmaster AR 15 semi-automatic rifle; Drabek and Brannigan attempted to seal off the east end of the alley. As was mentioned before by Chief Welter at a tension-filled meeting held at the Ponderosa Elementary School Library weeks after the shooting, the police version holds that a male riding a bike and another, Hernandez, running beside him carrying a shotgun, were headed towards the west end.
As the bicyclist fled, Officer Hurtado left his cover, pointed his rifle and yelled a police command out for Hernandez to stop. The report says that Hernandez stopped and changed directions within 10 yards of the armed officer--but that's not when the shooting occurred. Strange...
|Wakefield Alley where the officer-involved shooting occurred|
Hurtado told OCDA investigators that Hernandez turned towards a blue Dumpster positioned near a wall topped with barbed wire fencing. The officer says that he initially thought that Hernandez was going to jump over the wall and flee into an adjacent mobile home park. Hurtado said he feared for his life when he claimed that Hernandez moved a shotgun so that it eventually pointed his way, but the report doesn't specify if Hernandez did this on purpose, or accidentally. Nevertheless, Hurtado fired three rifle shots; one struck Hernandez in the head. The shotgun was said to have been laying four to five feet to the side of Hernandez's body.
OCDA investigators interviewed nearly sixty witnesses by their own account, but the testimony of only two were included in the final report. A woman identified as Witness #1 was in the alley at the time of the confrontation. She noted that she caught a glimpse of the two men running by but didn't see anything in their hands. Aside from that, she corroborated that Hurtado issued commands to Hernandez.
The other interesting part of the report involves cameras. At the March meeting, angry residents demanded to know where they were and what they showed. "As far as the cameras go, the District Attorney, most likely, has those," Welter said at the time. "I'll be very interested to know what the cameras revealed." But Caroline Toneygay, the mother of Martin Hernandez, told the Weekly last July that an OCDA investigator gave her the run around saying there were no videos nor any surveillance footage of the shooting.
The final report says nothing of any cameras, opting instead to mention that a resident identified as Witness #2 captured cellphone footage in the aftermath purportedly showing Hernandez lying down, bleeding to death, with a shotgun a few feet away.
The justification is the second is as many months for Anaheim police after Officer Nick Bennallack, named in a $50 million civil rights lawsuit in the officer-involved killing of Manuel Diaz, was cleared in late December of any criminal culpability in the shooting death of Bernie Villegas.
A gathering at the Wakefield alley is already set to take place to mark the first anniversary of his death in March. You can read the DA's report in its entirety by clicking on the appropriate links on the "Investigative Letters" page of the DA's website.
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