More than a year has passed since a single jaywalking stop in San Clemente by two Orange County Sheriff’s deputies, tasked with homeless outreach, set off a whirlwind of renewed local policing debates and national scrutiny.
Kurt Reinhold, a homeless Black man known to move about the south county town, was shot twice on Sept. 23, 2020 by one of the deputies after Reinhold insisted on walking away during the stop. Futile CPR attempts were made. Reinhold was dead.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s office has yet to decide whether to file charges against the deputies over their actions that day, amidst a probe his office announced shortly after the shooting, but has apparently spanned now 13 months.
Both deputies returned to duty and were reassigned.
“It’s still under investigation and we’re not going to be releasing any additional details at this time,” said District Attorney spokesperson Kimberly Edds in a brief Tuesday phone interview.
Reinhold’s story has meanwhile fueled a number of ongoing debates, on varying issues, in the year that’s passed after his death.
Multiple cities across the county have reworked the role of police in responding to homeless calls and mental health crises.
Reinhold’s name has been invoked in think pieces, and even propelled a state-level push to decriminalize jaywalking this year — an effort which Gov. Gavin Newsom ultimately shot down, but, in a broader sense, sought to dispel jaywalking as a concept reinforcing cars’ dominance on the streets over pedestrians and active, more equitable transportation.
And deadly use of force incidents by Orange County police, during what some say were possible mental health situations, have continued to spark questions over the last year.
One legal claim against Anaheim police made public in February this year said officers set a K-9 upon a child experiencing a “psychotic episode” in his home back in April 2020. The claim says the minor lost a testicle, after the ordeal.
And most recently, Anaheim police in September shot and killed Brandon Lopez, the cousin of Santa Ana City Councilman Johnathan Hernandez, in front of his family, in what critics lambasted as the fumbling of a mental health situation that called for de-escalation.
The killing came after a vehicle pursuit and hours’ long standoff. Police forced Lopez out of his car with an apparent flashbang and shot him with multiple rounds until he lay on the ground, dead, according to video of the incident later circulated online.
Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento publicly likened Anaheim police’s actions at the time to a “firing squad” during a city council meeting.
Across the 13 months since Reinhold’s killing, Spitzer’s office has released 8 charging decisions into cases where police shot people in Orange County, and 13 into cases of deaths within law enforcement custody.
None of those 21 total decision letters out of Spitzer’s office declare any of the subject police officers criminally culpable or responsible for wrongdoing relating to their incidents.
And none of those decision letters pertain to the deputies who shot Reinhold, perhaps the county’s most high-profile use of force incident in years.
“Once we finish the legal review, we will issue a legal conclusion letter and any associated body-worn camera footage,” said Edds, the OC District Attorney spokesperson.
The Sheriff’s Dept. has started rolling out body-worn cameras this year, making the department one of the last, but largest, police forces to do so in Orange County.
Sheriff officials have argued Reinhold could’ve been reaching for a deputy’s gun throughout news conferences and videos stringing together footage from the September 2020 shooting.
Critics, policing experts, and Reinhold’s family wonder how deputies assigned to homeless outreach let their encounter with a homeless person escalate to that point.
The civil lawsuit by Reinhold’s family argues the 42-year-old’s death was racist and avoidable, the result of Sheriff’s deputies being poorly trained for de-escalation and a homeless outreach task some say is better left to other trained professionals.
Such arguments aren’t new and were the subject of the first oversight report in years by the county’s Office of Independent Review, under its relatively new director, Sergio Perez.
That report explored deeper, “troubling cultural currents” in the use of force training and policies at the OC Sheriff’s Dept. that Perez’s office said may fuel deputy misconduct, excessively harsh treatment toward people in custody, and a lack of internal probes into instances of unauthorized use of force.
The report also said deputies were unequipped to handle people experiencing a mental health crisis.
A survey of more than 300 California police officers this month, conducted by the Little Hoover Commission, showed about half of the respondents believed issues like de-escalation aren’t adequately covered in law enforcement training up and down the state.
Perez’s report also detailed various issues where some training instructors at the Sheriff’s Dept. diminished policy or endorsed mistreatment tactics, and use of force incident reports either lacked details or were filed late.
The report did offer Sheriff Barnes’ shop some praise.
Perez’s office commended the department for having in place “many critical components that effectively govern use of force by its deputies.”
The report recounts one instance the Office of Independent Review learned about where deputies found a way to stabilize one potentially-deadly encounter with an unruly hotel guest who grabbed a deputy’s holstered gun.
The report notes the hotel guest in that example, although he did the same thing Sheriff officials argued Reinhold did during his struggle with deputies, didn’t die.