Two years ago, an off-duty Orange County Sheriff’s deputy pulled his gun on an unarmed South County teen during a confrontation at a San Clemente skatepark.
This month, Orange County Supervisors approved a $195,000 settlement agreement with the teen, Max Chance III of San Juan Capistrano, after he sued the county over negligence, assault, emotional distress and civil rights violations around the incident.
Sheriff officials have since determined the deputy, Michael Thalken, violated department policy through his actions, which includes Thalken yelling “Get on your knees or I will shoot you in the fucking face” as he pointed a gun at Chance on Oct. 12, 2019.
Yet Thalken remains employed at the department in a “non-field capacity,” said Sheriff spokesperson Carrie Braun in a Wednesday statement, adding that unspecified “discipline was issued and served.”
Chance — whose father, Max Chance Jr., happens to be a retired deputy who once supervised Thalken, according to attorneys — was 16 at the time of the incident.
The OC Board of Supervisors approved the settlement on July 13.
Representing Chance in his lawsuit against the county were father-and-son attorneys Eric and Connor Traut, the latter of whom is the current mayor of Buena Park.
“I think they need to go over their written policies again to ensure that people aren’t subjected to this sort of thing again,” said Eric Traut in a Wednesday phone interview.
Traut said his team called in an expert review of OC Sheriff policies “that relate to conduct of Sheriff’s deputies on and off duty, and this conduct was prohibited in their own written policies, so it’s my hope they’ll … ensure this conduct doesn’t happen again.”
Braun, in an email response to questions about that, said “the Department routinely reviews policy through briefing items for sworn staff” in the jails, courts and field deputies on patrol.
Chance, in his lawsuit, alleges he suffered emotional anguish, as well as post traumatic stress following the incident.
The teenager was at the skatepark with some friends when Thalken walked over from the adjacent little league field that night.
The lawsuit says Thalken appeared intoxicated and angered by the music playing from a nearby live band, shouting “Where is the tough guy” while another bystander mimicked Thalken’s drunk-like walk.
Chance had done nothing to instigate Thalken besides raising his skateboard and backing away in self defense, the lawsuit says, when Thalken tried to grab the teenager’s wrist.
That was when Thalken pulled his gun on Chance, captured on video by observers.
Thalken only identified himself as law enforcement once Chance complied with his demands to get on his knees, according to the lawsuit, which also alleges that Thalken misrepresented what happened when other deputies arrived on scene and when the teen’s father called Thalken and revealed that the teenager was his son.
The lawsuit was filed in Orange County Superior Court on March 9.
“As part of a settlement agreement like this, you can’t make it contingent that the deputy is fired,” Traut said. “However, I do hope there is some disciplinary action other than removing him from duty for a short period of time, which they did after this incident and took some limited internal steps with him.”
Braun, in the Sheriff’s Dept. statement, said Thalken was “immediately” placed on administrative leave “while the case was investigated and submitted to the District Attorney’s office.”
The D.A.’s office under Todd Spitzer ultimately opted not to file criminal charges.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.