Two Anaheim police officers fired their weapons 76 times during a pursuit last year in which a man armed with an airsoft gun and under the influence of drugs was killed after being struck by at least nine police bullets.
The actions of the officers were described by prosecutors as “alarming and irresponsible” in a report released Wednesday, but the Orange County District Attorney’s Office determined there was insufficient evidence to file charges against them.
Graphic videos from the body cameras worn by both officers were reviewed, and one of the officers, Kevin Pedersen, was fired. The other, Sean Staymates, was disciplined.
The six-minute bodycam footage, also released Wednesday, was described as “disturbing” and “difficult” to watch by city officials.
The dangerous pursuit unfolded July 21, 2018, in a residential part of Anaheim and left Eliuth Penaloza Nava, 50, dead.
How the Shooting Happened
The incident began just after 9:30 a.m. when one of the suspect’s brothers called police and said that Nava had ingested an unknown drug and was “hallucinating,” according to the DA’s report.
Nava, who lived in a detached part of a house belonging to his parents, had a history of drug abuse; family members suspected he was under the influence of some substance that morning because he was behaving erratically, the report stated.
The brother told dispatchers that a “knife and gun” were inside Nava’s truck, a white Chevy S-10 that was parked in front of his parents’ house.
Relatives were fearful as the two brothers did not get along, and Nava had been violent with him previously. The two had argued before the brother left the house and called police.
Shortly before 9:45 a.m., Staymates and Pedersen responded to the home, which is located in a densely populated residential area comprised of one- and two-story homes. Several residents were out and about on the summer morning; it was a Saturday.
Concerned that the suspect was acting erratically and possibly armed, Pedersen decided the best course of action would be to block Nava’s truck.
But before the officers had a chance to do that, Nava spotted them, got into his vehicle and drove toward their patrol car, according to the report. He attempted a U-turn but ran out of room and ended up perpendicular to the officers’ vehicle.
Pedersen and Staymates exited their car, drew their weapons and ordered Nava out multiple times, video from the two officers’ body cameras showed.
Nava failed to comply, pulled a U-turn and fled. The officers jumped back in their car and followed him.
During the pursuit, Pedersen saw Nava with what he believed was a black, semi-automatic weapon, which the suspect appeared to aim at officers, according to the report.
Staymates is heard in the bodycam video telling his partner to “give us some distance,” just as Pedersen, who was driving the patrol car, says, “I’m going to ram him.” Pedersen fires a volley of gunshots at the truck.
Pedersen tells his partner to “start shooting.” Staymates readies a rifle.
The two opened fire multiple times during the pursuit as Nava pointed the replica weapon in the direction of officers.
One of them can be heard saying the driver is “pointing the gun backwards at us, and then at himself.”
Pedersen reloaded his pistol several times while pursuing the suspect, the bodycam footage shows. The officer shot through the police car’s windshield and through its driver-side window.
At one point, Pedersen told Staymates to hold his fire with the rifle due to the risk of danger to bystanders.
The chase continued, with Nava at times driving recklessly; on one occasion, he blew through a stop sign and nearly hit pedestrians, authorities said.
Minutes later, after Pedersen fired again at the truck, Staymates saw that Nava was injured.
“Suspect is hit. We know he’s bleeding,” one of the officers can be heard saying in the video. “I think I hit his head.”
Still, Nava continued on, driving through an intersection and nearly crashing into an occupied vehicle, according to the report.
At approximately 9:47 a.m., Nava stopped his truck in front of his home but stayed in the vehicle, giving no indication that he was surrendering.
“Both officers feared that as the driver door opened, Nava would pop out and fire at the officers and/or any individuals in the surrounding area. This fear was based on Nava’s actions of pointing a gun at them several times, leading them in a pursuit, and displaying a total disregard for public safety,” the report stated.
Then, somebody can be heard screaming in the video as the officers exit their vehicle and walk toward the pickup truck. Both appeared to shoot at Nava in rapid succession, the footage showed.
Police yelled for the driver to “get down” as they continued firing at him.
The pickup truck’s door opened, with Nava’s apparently lifeless body in the driver’s seat. Pedersen then reloaded his pistol twice while firing a rapid succession of rounds, the video shows.
“All right — he’s done, he’s done,” one of the officers said.
Pedersen then fired three more shots before the gunfire ended.
Pedersen removed a bloodied Nava from the vehicle and put him on the ground as somebody called for paramedics.
“Watch out, watch out. That’s a dead man,” the officer can be heard yelling at someone off in the distance.
Pedersen appeared to kick something — which the report identified as a gun — away from the suspect. A knife in Nava’s possession was found on the ground next to him.
Nava was found to have “minimal heart activity” when paramedics arrived. They transported him to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
An autopsy revealed he had been shot at least nine times and had bullet wounds to the head, neck and upper extremities. His blood tested positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines.
Authorities later determined Nava’s gun was actually a carbon dioxide-powered air pistol, similar in appearance to an “authentic 9 mm Luger pistol,” according to the report.
Five witnesses to the chase told investigators they also saw Nava with what they believed was a handgun; two said they observed Nava shooting three rounds, the report stated.
Pedersen was determined to have fired his weapon 64 times; Staymates’ rifle, meanwhile, fired 12 shots.
No Criminal Charges for the Officers
Prosecutors said that in order to file charges, they would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no legal justification for the officers’ conduct — a conclusion they could not make “based on the totality of the circumstances.”
Through the investigation, the DA’s Office concluded a jury would “justly” conclude it was reasonable to think their lives and others’ were in danger during the chase.
Nevertheless, prosecutors expressed serious concerns over the officers’ actions.
“The fact that the two involved officers discharged their weapons 76 times, from a moving patrol car at Nava’s moving car, at approximately 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, in a residential neighborhood where residents, including children, were home and on the streets, was alarming and irresponsible based on the totality of all the circumstances in this specific case,” the report stated.
The incident led to Pedersen’s firing, while Staymates was disciplined, according to Anaheim Police Department Chief Jorge Cisneros.
Cisneros described the bodycam footage as “difficult” to watch, noting he’s been in law enforcement for 29 years.
He also said his department’s actions should not be judged by the conduct of officers in one encounter.
“Every day Anaheim police officers demonstrate remarkable compassion and restraint while at times dealing with dangerous and uncooperative suspects,” Cisneros said. “While this was not our finest hour, it would be wrong to judge our dedicated employees by a single encounter.”
KTLA’s Brian Day contributed to this story.