SANTA ANA (CNS) - As part of a new policy to increase awareness of officer-involved shooting investigations, Orange County prosecutors on Wednesday released video of a deadly one-hour standoff between a suicidal man and police in Orange earlier this year.
Up until Wednesday, Orange County District Attorney's Office investigators would send a letter to a relevant law enforcement agency involved in an officer-involved shooting or in-custody death explaining the results of an investigation and then alert the media. But in a move to increase transparency and build more public trust in the investigation of these police conflicts, prosecutors released videos of the officer-involved shooting of Michael Anthony Perez.
"This is our policy from now on when it is legally permissible,'' said Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh, who heads up the unit that handles officer-involved shooting investigations.
"It's consistent with the public's right to know, and this is something the public has an interest in and it's important for everyone to see how we review these cases.''
In Perez's case, "it wasn't a close call'' whether the officers violated the law in the way they handled the conflict with the suspect, Baytieh said.
"This wasn't an armed suspect five feet away,'' Baytieh said, adding one officer was struggling with Perez, who had a knife in one hand and was reaching for a sheathed knife when another officer shot the suspect.
The officers even used a bean-bag gun to try to subdue the suspect before shooting him with a service revolver, Baytieh said.
The conflict with the 33-year-old Perez began about 11:15 p.m. on March 12, when an officer saw he was driving a 1998 GMC van on Wilson Avenue with a broken taillight. A records check revealed Perez was wanted on warrant for not appearing in court on a citation for driving without a license.
When the officer tried to stop him, Perez kept going until he pulled into a strip mall parking lot at 108 W. Katella Ave., where the standoff began.
Perez refused to get out of the van and at one point he put a red, plastic gas container on the dashboard and would flick a lighter near it. He threatened to ignite the gas and at one point made the container into a "makeshift Molotov cocktail'' by stuffing a gas-soaked towel in it.
Police used a fire hose to try to flush Perez out of the van while also dousing the gas and flammable materials. It didn't work initially, but Perez eventually got out and got into a tussle with police.
Officer Carlos Gutierrez eventually shot Perez as he struggled with another officer.
Perez was "suicidal a few weeks before'' the shooting, Baytieh said. He gave a suicide note to a family member before the shooting. His estranged wife had gotten a restraining order against him, the prosecutor said.
Perez, who was smoking methamphetamine in the van as officers negotiated his safe departure from the vehicle, had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his system, Baytieh said.
Police recovered two videos from witnesses and also used a video from an officer's vehicle and a surveillance video from a nearby business in the investigation, Baytieh said.
"It's a sign of the times,'' Baytieh said of the proliferation of videos used in officer-involved shooting investigations.
"When I first started working as a prosecutor it was very, very rare that you would have a video for a shooting, but it's very rare now to not have a video,'' Baytieh said.
Prosecutors showed reporters a 12-minute video on Wednesday that showed the conflict from every angle, Baytieh said.