The families and friends of Orange County residents like Hector Hernandez, David Sullivan and other people who have been killed by law enforcement, are outraged by Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s reviews of police killings.
In Orange County, those reviews side with police in every case.
And that makes some residents wonder.
They, along with community members and groups like Chispa and the ACLU SoCal, gathered outside the District Attorney’s office in Santa Ana on Friday to call on State Attorney General Rob Bonta to conduct an investigation of his own.
They want a review of Spitzer’s office and his conclusions on the killings.
“Today we stand in strong solidarity with the families across Orange County and California that have lost a loved one to police violence. This happens too often in Orange County,” said Jennifer Rojas, a policy advocate with the ACLU, at today’s protest.
To read all of the OC District Attorney’s reports on police shootings, go here.
Friday’s event took place months after a judge ruled that Spitzer violated racial bias law over remarks he made to other prosecutors when deciding on pursuing the death penalty against a Black defendant.
[Read: Judge Finds OC DA Todd Spitzer Violated Racial Bias Law – Could Be First in State for an Elected DA]
Those concerns led the NAACP of Orange County to call on Spitzer to step down.
“He has been the only District Attorney in California to have violated the racial justice act,” Rojas said.
He also got re-elected with over 62 percent of the vote in the June Primary.
Despite voters’ assessment of Spitzer, local activists say there’s a problem in Orange County.
“Every day we see in the Orange County criminal legal system, black and brown people being targeted for incarceration, targeted for police violence in the community and this is why we’re gathered here today to say no longer will we accept this,” Rojas said.
Kimberly Edds, a spokesperson for the District Attorney, texted Voice of OC a statement from Spitzer in response to the group’s demands.
“The Orange County District Attorney’s Office employs some of the most well respected and experienced officer-involved shooting investigators in the state of California,” reads his statement.
“It is that reputation that prompted the California Attorney General to have the Orange County District Attorney’s Office train their investigators in how to conduct officer-involved shooting investigations and we continue to support their efforts in any way we can.”
Meanwhile, some residents say Spitzer and the DA’s office have garnered a different reputation.
Concerns have been raised about racial disparities in the offices’ prosecution rates from before his time in office.
A report published by the ACLU found that 6% of the people charged by the DA’s office in 2017-2018 were Black and 43% were Latino, despite Black people making up about 2% of the population and Latinos making up about 34% residents.
While Spitzer, who was elected in 2018, and his office did not provide the ACLU with data from his tenure, the Voice of OC obtained records from the Superior Court showing that the most-prosecuted crime in Orange County is possession of drug paraphernalia for using drugs.
Residents Speak Out
One by one on Friday, family members and friends of people killed by police in OC spoke out. Spitzer’s office has cleared the police officers who have killed the loved ones they lost.
The first to speak was Deanna Sullivan, the mother of David Sullivan.
David was 19-years-old when he was killed by Buena Park Police Officers Bobby Colon and Jennifer Tran in Fullerton during a traffic stop in August, 2019.
Before the traffic stop, Sullivan had stolen $1,000 in cash and merchandise from the gas station where he worked, and the car he was driving was also stolen, according to investigators.
Deanna said her son was unarmed and did not have a criminal record.
Spitzer’s investigation into the killing concluded that there was “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any criminal culpability” on the part of the officer who killed Sullivan.
“The DA Todd Spitzer found their murder of my son justifiable. My son did not have a weapon. He was pulled over in a traffic stop for expired tags,” Deanna said. “We’re the hardworking people with the tax dollars that pay for their salaries, their pensions, their privilege, and they murder our loved ones and ask questions later.”
Deanna also criticized Lexipol – a private company that provides police training.
In Oct. 2020, Deanna demanded the investigation be reopened and for justice for her son at a County Supervisor meeting.
[Read: Calls Intensify for DA to Reopen Probe into Buena Park Police Shooting of 19-Year-Old David Sullivan]
That supervisor meeting took place a month after an OC Sheriff Deputy Eduardo Duran shot and killed Kurt Reinhold, a Black homeless man, after stopping him for jaywalking.
A couple of weeks ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill decriminalizing jaywalking – about two years after Reinhold was killed.
Spitzer’s investigation into the Reinhold killing concluded that there was “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any criminal culpability” on the part of the officer who killed Reinhold.
Similar conclusions were made about the police killing of Hector Hernandez.
In May 2020, Fullerton police officer Jonathan Ferrell shot and killed Hernandez in his own yard, raising questions from friends and family on the police departments’ tactics the night of the shooting.
[Read: Fullerton Residents Continue to Protest Police Shooting of Hector Hernandez]
Police contend that Hernandez posed a serious threat to his family and responded to a 9-1-1 call by his 15-year-old step-son on May 27, who said Hernandez had been drinking and threatened family members with a knife and fired off a gun inside the house.
Bill Brown, Fullerton resident, neighbor and friend of Hernandez, said he along with his kids witnessed the killing of Hernandez and that Spitzer should have charged the officer.
“He didn’t do what he’s supposed to. He didn’t do his job and enforce the law. All the evidence, in the case of Hector Hernandez in Fullerton pointed to 100% Hector lying on his back trying to defend himself from a dog chewing him up on the ground in his own front yard.” Brown said.
He said Hernandez was a good guy, soft spoken, not aggressive and “a staple” to the street he lived on.
Spitzer’s investigation into the killing concluded that there was “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any criminal culpability” on the part of the officer who killed Hernandez.
It seems Bonta is looking into this case.
“We have already turned over the entire investigatory file regarding the officer-involved shooting of Hector Hernandez by the Fullerton Police Department at the request of the Attorney General and we look forward to providing any additional assistance,” Spitzer said in his statement.
These are just a few of the residents who have been killed by police. Others include Anaheim 17-year-old Hannah Williams, whose father spoke on Friday, and 32-year-old father Fermin Vincent Valenzuela.
Brown called the DA’s investigation report on Hernandez fabricated and said Ferrell was never in danger of being harmed.
“The evidence doesn’t match the decision,” Brown told a reporter.
“I’m not letting this go.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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