OC DA Rings in the New Year By Clearing Santa Ana Cops in Shooting
The Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA) ended the holidays by publishing a slew of investigations clearing OC cops of wrongdoing in a number of shooting incidents.
A week into the new year, the agency issued its first report clearing two SanTana policemen in the fatal killing of 35-year-old Jessica Gonzalez last June.
On June 20, 2013, Orange police were dispatched to a scene where a woman was shot three times in the back; she died later from her wounds.
Detectives with the department issued a warrant for Gonzalez's arrest after identifying her as the victim's ex-girlfriend and a wanted suspect.
Three days later, Santa Ana police officers Gary Ayala and Saul Esquivel were patrolling the densely populated neighborhood of Townsend Street (which may or may not be subject to a coming gang injunction) when they crossed paths with Gonzalez.
According to the policemen, who gave their voluntary statements to the OCDA an entire three months after the shooting, she was hanging with homies outside a garage near the 800 block of South Townsend Street. Officer Ayala, briefed earlier on Gonzalez's warrant, recognized her and saw what he thought was a gray semiautomatic pistol being brandished toward the sky.
Fearing for his life, Ayala drew his pistol and fired shots at the garage wall to give him time to run for cover. He saw Gonzalez planted face-down in the alley, but it wasn't his bullets that took her down. Although Esquivel didn't see a weapon on her, he did hear shots after his partner yelled, "Gun!" The officer opened fire, striking Gonzalez. The gunfire he had heard came from his partner.
Of the 20 total shots fired between the two officers the final two came when Ayala believed Gonzalez was reaching for a pistol after being downed and fired two rounds into her back. She was struck nine times and died after being transferred to UCI Medical Center in Orange.
A forensic scientist with the Orange County Crime Lab (OCCL) retrieved evidence from the scene, including a gray plastic toy gun. The neighborhood was canvassed, but the OCDA report says no residents witnessed the shooting and that the only "percipient" witnesses were the policemen. The homies hanging out in the garage? They fled and were never located after the cops took cover, radioing that a shooting took place.
The legal analysis of the OCDA report affirms that Ayala and Esquivel acted in reasonable self-defense and cleared them of any criminal culpability.
The investigative letter can be read in its entirety online.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz