It's Clearance Week at the OC DA's Office: Two Cop Shootings, Two In-Custody Deaths Deemed A-OK! Update
See the update at the end of this post with findings from yet another OCDA letter
ORIGINAL POST, MAY 22, 7:03 A.M.: By Taco Tuesday, the Orange County District Attorney's (OCDA) office already put out four investigation letters. Two of them dealt with officer-involved shootings; the others looked into the circumstances surrounding in-custody deaths. Surprise, surprise! All of them cleared law enforcement of any wrong doing. Being the locos that we are, the Weekly took them all at once.
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Up to bat first is an on-duty officer-involved shooting by Garden Grove police. On April 25, 2013, Sergeant Mike Martin and his partner joined other officers in approaching a van during parole surveillance. Chad Hanchett, 37, told his wife earlier that he'd be grabbing a bite to eat before heading off to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. When police observed him stopped with the engine running by a Chinese restaurant near Garden Grove Boulevard, he appeared to be boozing it up for 20 minutes instead of reciting the serenity prayer.
Officers decided to make contact. A run of the license plate revealed Hanchett's probation for assault and battery. The small talk came to an abrupt halt when he put the vehicle in reverse. As Hanchett began driving in the direction of one of the officers, Sgt. Martin opened fire numerous times, fearing his partner could be roadkill. Hanchett's injuries from bullet wounds landed him in stable but critical condition. He eventually succumbed to them, though, months later in November. A blood test the day of the shooting revealed Hanchett had an ethanol level of .22%
The OCDA sent another investigation letter this week regarding an officer-involved shooting. It looked into the May 30, 2013 killing of Gerardo Ayala, 26, by Santa Ana Police Detective Sergio Gutierrez. Patrolling in a gang unit vehicle, Gutierrez and his partner, Detective Pedro Duran, headed into Rosewood Court, a neighborhood popularly known as "The Apple." They approached a Dodge Charger parked in a lot and saw what looked like a drug deal between the driver and Ayala, who stood outside his Dodge Ram truck.
Detective Gutierrez walked towards Ayala, while the Charger Duran tried to handle sped off leading to a pursuit. Alone with Ayala, a struggle ensued. According to the report, Gutierrez tried to cuff the man on the ground who repeatedly reached for his waistband. The detective Tased Ayala, but the two men continued fighting over the object. As Ayala turned to his right, Gutierrez fired twice striking him in the upper torso. The detective recovered the gun and threw it a few feet away from Ayala. Investigators interviewed a woman identified only as Jane Doe. She said that a woman who had been in Ayala's truck ran off with the weapon.
Gutierrez gave a statement to investigators, but no summary appears in the report as they ruled the fatal shooting justified within policy anyway.
The OCDA also cleared house this week with two custodial death investigations. In the first, Santa Ana police responded to Raymond Runge, a 44-year-old whose behavior became erratic. Runge's parents met him on August 22, 2103 at the Quality Suites hotel in Santa Ana trying to persuade the man to return to drug rehab. Two days later, he wandered away from his mom and walked towards the nearby Embassy Suites passing two SAPD cops along the way. Runge ran away though officers didn't try to contact him at the time. A whole lot of police responded when he later endangered himself and drivers by lying down in the carpool lane of the 55 freeway.
An officer put Runge in chokehold in the ensuing struggle. Others tied up his legs. They purposefully avoided crushing him with their weight, per the report, but Runge became unresponsive as an officer attempted to put a second tie around his waist. Taken to a hospital, doctors pronounced him dead on August 26, 2013. An autopsy showed fractured ribs, but noted that the cause of injury as CPR. As for death? A doctor with the Orange County Coroner's Office said Runge lost his life due to methamphetamine intoxication.
Last but not least, the OCDA concluded its investigation into the inmate death of 56-year-old Daniel Martinez. Orange County Probation Department (OCPD) officers arrested the man on February 5, 2013 for violating his probation. OCPD took him to Orange County Jail for booking. Martinez spent the next couple months being transferred to different facilities. On May 27, 2013, he complained of pain. Medical staff at Central Men's Jail determined he had low blood pressure. An ambulance came and took Martinez to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana.
Martinez's conditioned worsened over the days as his liver and kidney started failing. On June 2, 2013 his blood pressure plummeted further still as his heart stopped. Life-saving measures failed and Martinez died later that morning. He never stated anything about sustaining injuries or being assaulted while jailed. An autopsy declared cause of death to be a triad of chronic drug abuse, hypertensive cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus. Accordingly, the OCDA issued no finding of criminal culpability on the part of Orange County Sheriff Department staff.
All the clearance letters from this week can be read in their entirety online.
UPDATE, MAY 23, 8:00 A.M.: The Orange County District Attorney's (OCDA) office issued its fifth report this week when it reviewed a fatal officer-involved shooting by Huntington Beach police. On the morning of August 3, 2013, officer Jason Heilman stopped Eric Marquez and another man on Glencoe Avenue. Heilman asked Marquez what gang he claimed. The man only replied "I'm just from L.A., from Venice."
The officer detained both men on the curb. Heilman asked Marquez to show him his hands. Marquez stood up and started running instead. The cop followed, opening fire first after Marquez pulled a gun out covered by a handkerchief and turned towards him. A shoot out between the two continued throughout the chase. Heilman took cover behind a truck, caught eye of Marquez and unloaded 8-10 rounds. A woman came out running towards Marquez's motionless body hysterically yelling "You shot my son!"
The OCDA's report is admittedly based primarily on the officer's account given to the Orange County Sheriff's Department. The investigation letter cites three anonymous witnesses backing up critical claims of Heilman's account. With that, the OCDA found no criminal culpability in the shooting death.
And that concludes this week in OCDA reports...unless the Weekly gets a press release at 5 p.m. today!
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz