Anaheim Mayor, Police Chief Upset by Video of Off-Duty LAPD Officer Confrontation with Teens

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait at a press conference Thursday.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait told a news conference Thursday he was “deeply disturbed and frankly, angered” by a widely-circulating video of a physical struggle between an off-duty Los Angeles police officer and a group of teens.

“The video shows an adult wrestling with a 13-year-old kid and ultimately firing a gun,” said Tait, who was accompanied by Police Chief Raul Quezada, Los Angeles Assistant Police Chief Michael Moore, and school district officials. “I am so thankful no one was seriously hurt, but it should never have happened, and not in one of our neighborhoods or near our schools.”

Quezada said he too was disturbed by the video and emphasized that the department is conducting a thorough investigation.

“As a father and a police chief, I too was disturbed by what I saw in the videos on the internet” said Quezada.  “[But] I’m charged with enforcing the laws absent my personal feelings.”

The press conference came a day after nearly 300 people took to the streets of a quiet Anaheim neighborhood where the altercation occurred to protest and express their outrage about the confrontation.

The confrontation began around 2:40 p.m. Tuesday, less than a mile from Palm Lane Elementary, Ball Junior High and Loara High School when about 18 students of varying ages were walking home from classes and one or more took a shortcut across the officer’s lawn at a bend in the street.

Tait and Moore, who spoke on behalf of Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, pledged to conduct “fair” and “impartial” investigations into the incident. The Anaheim Police Department will conduct a criminal investigation into the altercation and present its findings to the Orange County District Attorney, which would ultimately pursue any prosecution.

The Los Angeles Police Department will also conduct a separate internal inquiry into the officer’s use of deadly force and decide whether it warrants further discipline. The officer has since been placed on administrative leave.

“This is a long process, but it’s one meant to ensure a complete and thorough understanding of what occurred,” said Moore.

In addition, Michael Gennaco, a police expert and consultant to the city’s Public Safety Board, told the board Thursday night he has recommended that  Quezada conduct a major incident review of the department’s response to the incident, and report the findings to the Public Safety Board.

The board is responsible for hearing public grievances and overseeing the city’s public safety policies.  The City Council will hear a report about the efficacy of the Public Safety Board at its Feb. 28 meeting.

A handful of Anaheim residents addressed the board about the confrontation between the off-duty officer and the teens.

“This man who pulls a gun on a child should have been arrested,” said West Anaheim resident Mark Richard Daniels. “If I had done that, I would be sitting your jail now.”

Arturo Ferreras, who lives on Palais Road a few houses from where the incident occurred, said people in the neighborhood are saddened by what happened, but don’t want to see violence or protesters from outside the neighborhood exploiting the incident for political gain.

“What really bothers us is the same thing happened in Anaheim in 2012, when people outside of our neighborhood comes in there and take advantage of our victims – [both] the family of the student, and the victim [whose] house was vandalized,” said Ferreras.

In  2012,  hundreds of people protested in front of City Hall after a spate of police-involved shootings left two Latino men dead.

Parts of the Tuesday confrontation was captured on cell phone video taken by a bystander. The video has gone viral on social media and shows 13-year-old Christian Dorscht, whose stepfather works for the Anaheim Police Department, struggling to escape the grip of a man in sunglasses, who was holding onto the boy’s arm and hoodie.

In the video, which does not show the entire confrontation, a number of teens following the scene urge the officer to let go of Dorscht. One teen tried to pull Dorscht free, followed by another who shoves the officer over a hedge. During the ensuing struggle, the officer pulled a gun from his waistband and fired a single round.

Dorscht and a 15-year-old who tackled the officer were both arrested. The 15-year-old was released to his parents while Dorscht was booked into Orange County Juvenile Hall and has since been released.

Prior to the incident, the officer had made  several complaints to the Anaheim Police Department about issues with teenagers cutting across his front yard, said Anaheim Police Department spokesman Sgt. Daron Wyatt.

The officer apparently was upset that some students ignored his earlier instructions not to cut across his property

According to Quezada, the altercation began after Dorscht allegedly threatened to shoot the officer, although Dorscht’s parents claim that their son threatened to “sue,” not “shoot” the officer.

“He walked away and the officer made the decision to try to detain the juvenile pending our arrival,” said Quezada, who also reviewed footage from dashboard and body cameras worn by officers responding at the scene.

It’s unclear whether the officer, whose name is not being released by either the Anaheim or Los Angeles Police  Department, fired his gun on purpose or by accident. But Wyatt said all 18 youth who were present voluntarily gave statements and said the officer pointed his gun at the ground, not at any individuals.

“All the kids say he never pointed [the gun] at them or felt they were threatened by the gunshot,” Wyatt told reporters.

Quezada addressed questions raised by the public at the demonstration Wednesday night about why his department arrested two minors and not the off-duty officer. He said the department did not have access to all the videos collected at the time of their initial investigation.

He said there was “clear and compelling evidence” the 13-year-old made criminal threats against the officer, and the 15-year-old committed battery. Quezada said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove “the officer’s conduct rose to the level of a criminal act.”

“Criminal charges could still be brought against any or all of the parties involved,” said Quezada.

The officer’s name would only be released if he is arrested and charged.

Luis and Michael Carrillo, attorneys for two teenagers who were present at the scene, said at their own press conference outside the police department Thursday afternoon that the incident was not only an example of police misconduct but a shocking physical struggle between a grown man and a young teenager.

They represent a 13-year-old Ball Junior High girl who the officer allegedly called  a “fucking cunt,” and her 16-year-old brother, a Loara High School student who they say was shoved to the ground by Anaheim Police during their response.

“The officer fired into the ground – what if he had fired in another direction? We would have a dead child,” said Luis Carrillo.

The 16-year-old intends to sue the Anaheim Police Department for the emotional damage caused by excessive use of force during their response. Both he and his sister also filed an internal complaint against the Los Angeles Police Department fir negligence in hiring and training the officer.

Michael Carrillo defended the teenagers who witnessed the altercation.

“Some of these kids are being demonized for what they did, but that  boy is a hero,” said Carrillo. “This is about justice and treating teens with respect.”

Wyatt urged the public to respect the officer’s safety and property.

“He’s a human being just like the rest of us,” said Wyatt. “You may not agree with what he did, but he’s entitled to go on with his life free to threat, harm or damage to his property.”

Tait called the incident “a blow to our community” and urged the community to exercise their right to free speech without violence and without damaging property.

“We have worked for years to foster kindness and trust amongst neighbors and we’ve made great progress. What the world saw in that video does not reflect a community where neighbors help each other every day,” said Tait.

Members of the public who wish to express their opinion about their the incident, or share related information, can call a hotline at 714-765-7990.

 

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.