Anaheim’s police chief on Thursday said criminal charges could still be sought against “any and all” involved in a caught-on-video incident in which an off-duty LAPD officer fired a weapon during a struggle with a 13-year-old boy earlier this week.
Speaking at a news conference in the early afternoon, Chief Raul Quezada said the incident was part of an “ongoing dispute” involving multiple juveniles walking across the officer’s lawn, which escalated Tuesday afternoon into a confrontation between the teen and off-duty officer.
During the initial confrontation, the officer alleged the boy said he was going to shoot him, according to Quezada.
The juvenile walked away, and the officer decided to try and detain him pending police arrival.
“While physically detaining the juvenile, several houses away from where the initial incident began, several other juveniles became involved and a physical altercation ensued,” the police chief said.
At that point, two juveniles allegedly assaulted the off-duty officer and knocked him to the ground. After the second alleged battery, and after the group surrounded the officer, he drew a handgun and fired a single shot, according to Quezada.
Multiple witnesses gave statements to police that the officer was not shooting at anyone, but discharged his weapon at the ground instead, he said.
Officers arrived after receiving a 911 call regarding the incident.
From there, everyone present at the scene was interviewed, including the off-duty officer, his father and 18 juveniles.
Noting a “high degree of consistency” in the information obtained from interviewing the 18 juveniles, police arrested a 13-year-old and 15-year-old, the police chief said.
“Clear and compelling evidence” supported the allegations that the 13-year-old made criminal threats and engaged in battery, as well as the 15-year-old’s involvement in an assault and battery, according to Quezada.
The 13-year-old was booked at juvenile hall, and the 15-year-old was released to his parents, he said. The younger teen was also later released pending further investigation.
His family has retained an attorney, according to his mother.
The officer was “processed,” which included taking some clothing and forensic swabbing, according to the police chief.
“With regard to the off-duty officer, while the evidence was clear and compelling that he did detain the juvenile, and discharged his firearm, there was insufficient evidence at the time to prove the officer’s actions rose to the level of a criminal act,” Quezada said.
Still, he added, criminal charges could be brought against “any and all” of the involved parties.
In an interview shortly after his release Wednesday, the 13-year-old told his side of the story to KTLA, saying the incident began when the officer yelled at a girl.
“I said, ‘Hey, that’s not how you treat a lady,'” the boy said, standing outside the Theo Lacy detention facility in Orange with his mother. “And then he came at me. … He hit me. I ran to the street to run away from him, and he got me.”
A neighbor who witnessed the incident backed up his account, saying she heard the boy standing up for the girl.
“This cop is just irate, starts charging after this poor kid and from one thing to the next, it just went from, ‘Hey, don’t talk to her,’ to this kid being dragged,” she told KTLA in an interview Thursday.
In the video footage, an adult wearing sunglasses — the officer — and a teenager shout and scuffle as a crowd of youths gather around to watch.
“Let go of me,” the teen yelled as the officer holds onto his sweatshirt. “I’m only like 13.”
In the video, the officer says that the teenager threatened to shoot him; the boy denies it, saying the man misheard him when he actually said he’d “sue him.”
The neighbor who witnessed the confrontation corroborated this part of the boy’s account.
“He just kept on saying, ‘I’m going to sue you.’ I heard ‘sue’, not ‘shoot,'” the woman said.
Then a young bystander intervenes, charging at the officer and knocking him over a row of bushes, the footage showed. Another teen races in and tries to punch the adult.
As more teenagers gather around, the officer pulls out a gun and fires a single shot, prompting the crowd to scatter.
No one was injured by the gunfire, and the officer admitted to discharging his weapon, according to the Anaheim Police Department.
Quezada said he viewed footage of the incident that circulated and said that, as a father and a police chief, he was “disturbed” by what he saw.
Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait was also “deeply disturbed” and “frankly angered” over what the footage showed, he said during the news conference.
“This has been a blow to our community,” Tait said of the incident.
He added the city was committed to a full and impartial investigation.
Los Angeles Police Department Assistant Chief Michel Moore, who was also among the speakers at Thursday’s news conference, shared a similar sentiment, saying Chief Charlie Beck has watched footage of the confrontation.
“Chief Beck has seen portions of the videos that have been released, via YouTube and other sources, as I have, and we share in a concern that has been expressed earlier,” he said after Quezada and Tait spoke.
According to an LAPD statement, the unidentified officer has been placed on administrative leave.
Detectives from the Force Investigation Division will conduct an investigation to “determine whether the use of deadly force complied with LAPD’s policies and procedures,” the statement read.
Moore was asked about the officer, but said he could not release details about him. He declined, for instance, to specify how long the officer had been with the department when asked by a reporter.
Quezada also addressed protests that had turned violent in the city the night before.
Providing an updated number on arrests, he said 23 individuals — 18 adults and five minors — were taken into custody as a result of the protest at Euclid Street and Palais Road on Wednesday night.
An earlier figure from the department had the number of arrests at 24, including six juveniles.
All had been arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor offenses, including failure to disperse, resisting arrest and battery on a peace officer, according to Anaheim police Sgt. Daron Wyatt.
About 200 to 300 demonstrators took part in the protest, which began in the Anaheim neighborhood where the confrontation took place before, Quezada said.
The group was calling for charges to be filed against the officer, organizers said.
Violence erupted at one point, with some protesters gathered around the officer’s home shattering windows, damaging cars and spray-painting a neighbor’s garage door.
There were also several reports of windows being smashed at residences and on cars in the neighborhood, according to Wyatt.
Quezada said while he supported people’s rights to protest, “those rights … do not include the destruction of property, the disruption of the quiet enjoyment of neighborhoods or any acts of violence.”