DA Probe Clears Sheriff's Deputy Who Shot Unarmed Motorcyclist

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If you're going to lead an Orange County sheriff's deputy on a high-speed chase through the suburbs of South Orange County, don't get caught. If you do get caught, don't get off your bike and walk away from the deputy pointing his pistol at you. If you do this, don't put your hand in your pocket and start walking toward the deputy after he repeatedly orders you to stop.

And if you do all these things, and keep walking, and get shot, and are lucky enough to survive, don't expect the Orange County District Attorney's office to charge the deputy who shot you with a crime.

A case in point is the report unveiled yesterday by the DA's office that cleared Deputy Manuel Cruz in the March 12, 2012 shooting of Dennis Mitchell Mueller, in a cul de sac near Mueller's home in Rancho Santa Margarita. According to the DA's findings, in the weeks before the shooting, neighbors had been complaining about Mueller's loud bike, so he was already on Deputy Cruz' radar as a troublemaker.

Then, at roughly 12 p.m. on the day of the shooting, Cruz, who was also riding a motorcycle, tried to pull Mueller over on Santa Margarita Parkway, but Mueller sped off, racing through at least two red lights before Cruz lost track of him. But because Cruz recognized the bike as Mueller's and already knew where Mueller lived, he simply drove to Mueller's residence on Meadow Park Lane, where he waited for the biker to show up.

Sure enough, five minutes later, Mueller, who was wearing a bulky black jacket, allegedly arrived on his bike, dismounted and proceeded to walk to his house, ignoring Cruz, who shouted "Stay there," and "Don't Move." Then, according to the report, Mueller stuck a hand in his pocket, turned around, and took two steps toward Cruz, who said, "Dude, don't do it; stop, don't do it."

At that point, Cruz allegedly shot Mueller twice. A witness saw Mueller fall to his knees and then get back up and keep walking. Then Cruz shot him three more times. No witness observed the initial contact between the two men, or directly saw where Mueller's hands were when Cruz shot him. And while a few witnesses thought they heard a man pleading "please don't" right before the shots rang out, none of them could contradict the officer's claim that he was the one pleading with Mueller to comply with his orders.

Mueller, for his part, refused to make any statements to police. Fortunately, he survived his injuries, and later pled guilty to evading a police officer, a crime that won him 180 days in jail.

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