The family of a Black man fatally shot by an Orange County sheriff’s deputy in front of a San Clemente hotel has filed a wrongful death claim against the department and its deputies, attorneys announced Tuesday.
Kurt Reinhold, a 42-year-old Black man, was shot and killed following a physical altercation with two deputies outside Hotel Miramar, at 2222 S. El Camino Real, around 1:15 p.m. on Sept. 23.
At a news conference announcing the suit on Tuesday, the man’s family and their attorneys allege the deputies escalated the incident with Reinhold and used unreasonable and excessive deadly force.
“What did Kurt do to deserve to be shot in broad daylight? For jaywalking? None of this makes any sense. It’s a nightmare I’m living with each and every day,” Reinhold’s wife, Latoya, said. She added that her husband was a proud father of two children and loved sports, fitness and the outdoors.
John Taylor, one of the family’s attorneys, said that no person deserves to be killed for jaywalking, for being homeless or for having a mental illness. He described Reinhold as suffering from an unspecified mental illness that led to intermittent homelessness.
“The way the Orange County Sheriff’s Department handled this situation was a complete failure,” Taylor said. “Instead of using de-escalation techniques when they approached Mr. Reinhold, they continually escalated the encounter and Mr. Reinhold is now dead.”
Reinhold was walking in the early afternoon in the area of S. El Camino Real and E. Avenida San Gabriel, unarmed, when he was approached by two deputies from the sheriff’s department’s homeless outreach team and a scuffle broke out.
The family’s attorneys claimed that one of the deputies had a Taser in his hand at the time but did not use it.
Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement Tuesday that what initially led to the deputies stopping Reinhold remains under investigation.
“During the physical altercation, Mr. Reinhold grabbed one of the deputy’s guns,” Barnes said. “This information is shared as a factual circumstance of the encounter between the deputies and Mr. Reinhold, and not to excuse or assign blame to either party.”
At one point during the struggle, Reinhold appeared to be on top of the deputies while the second was on top of him on the side of the road as cars drove past, a video obtained by KTLA shows.
The Sheriff’s Department had previously released a still image from the hotel’s surveillance video that appeared to show Reinhold’s hand near or on a deputy’s holster while he and the deputies were struggling on the ground.
Authorities previously said the deputy, shortly after, stated several times, ‘he’s got my gun,’ and that preliminary findings show one deputy shot twice.
The deputies are 8- and 13-year veterans who are part of the department’s 25-member homeless outreach team. They’re trained in crisis intervention and deescalation, department officials had previously stated.
Taylor, the family’s attorney, on Tuesday claimed that moments before the shooting, Reinhold was “lucid, and he was not having some sort of emotional acting out, that would require any time of medical or emergency intervention.”
“How did we get to Kurt ending up on the ground being jumped by two officers and ending up being killed? He’s unarmed,” Taylor said. “Sadly, the killing joins an ever-growing mountain of evidence of unarmed Black men and women who are shot and killed by white officers.”
Attorney Neil Gehlawat added that the family is seeking full transparency and accountability from the sheriff’s department, which has yet to release videos, autopsy reports and the names of the two deputies.
“And we want all the footage, not just the select portions that they paused, stilled and showed, but the entire footage that’s in their possession,” Gehlawat said.
In a statement following the attorney’s press conference Tuesday, the sheriff offered his condolences to Reinhold’s family and urged people to avoid rushing to judgment amid an ongoing investigation.
“Every time law enforcement contact escalates to the use of deadly force, it is tragic for the family, the deputies and the community,” Barnes said. “With the current state of police community relations, we should not tolerate attempts to inflame and drive a narrative that does not fully capture the context of this singular incident.”