1 Anaheim officer fired, 1 on leave after 76 gunshots fired at fleeing driver in busy residential neighborhood
One Anaheim police officer has been fired and a second placed on leave after they fired 76 gunshots during a 2018 car chase through a busy residential neighborhood on a Saturday morning, killing a fleeing driver.
Orange County District Attorney’s Office investigators, in a letter released on Wednesday, described the actions of officers Sean Staymates and Kevin Pedersen when they shot and killed 50-year-old Eliuth Penaloza Nava as “alarming and irresponsible.”
The DA’s Office investigators determined, however, that there wasn’t enough evidence to file criminal charges against the officers.
“The District Attorney’s conclusion that all of the available evidence is insufficient to warrant the filing of criminal charges against the two officers should not in any way diminish the fact that the District Attorney is alarmed by this conduct, and, along with the public, is relying on (Anaheim) PD to fairly take any and all appropriate administrative actions and remedies,” Deputy District Attorney Scott Woolridge wrote.
Body-worn video footage of the pursuit, which Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu described as disturbing, showed one of the officers repeatedly firing through the front windshield of their police vehicle.
Following the release of the letter, Anaheim Police Department officials confirmed that Pedersen, a probationary officer who was with the department for about a year, had been fired, while Staymates, a 10-year-plus veteran of the department, has been on paid administrative leave since the day of the shooting.
“In this incident we failed what we expect of ourselves and what the community demands of us,” Sidhu said during a news conference.
Bullets fired by the officers struck at least one building, a car and a tree as well as Nava, Anaheim Police Chief Jorge Cisneros said. He declined to directly comment on the criticisms leveled against the officers in the report by the DA’s Office.
“We highly discourage shooting through a window,” the chief said. “But, our policy does not state that you cannot. There could be incidents or actions at times where that would be permissible.”
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office routinely reviews shootings involving police officers across the county. Reports announcing DA Office’s findings generally focus on whether the shootings were legally permissible, rarely touching on commenting on the specific tactics used by officers.
Nava, who had a history of drug use, lived with his family in the 500 block of South West Street, the letter said. According to DA’s Office investigators, his parents called police on July 21, 2018, worried that he had been acting strangely and arguing with a brother. They warned police that Nava appeared to have a knife and gun in his truck, according to the letter.
Officers Staymates and Pedersen arrived in the “heavily populated” neighborhood at about 9:45 a.m., investigators wrote in the letter, and saw Nava sitting in the driver’s seat of a white Chevrolet S10 pickup truck. Nava spotted the officers and drove off before they could block him in with their patrol car, according to the DA’s Office.
As the officers drove after Nava, Pedersen told DA investigators that he saw Nava reach down toward the floorboard of his truck and come up holding “what appeared to be a black semi-automatic handgun, resembling a Glock,” which he then pointed at the officers, according to the letter.
“Officers Pedersen and Staymates both feared Nava was going to shoot and kill them,” the DA investigators wrote. “Officer Pedersen wanted to stop Nava from hurting anyone and felt lethal force was necessary.”
According to the report, the bulk of the gunshots were fired by Pedersen, as the chase continued through alleys and surface streets. DA investigators wrote that Pedersen “believed he was always aware of his surroundings and fired only after considering the safety of the nearby citizens.”
Pedersen appears to fire the first shots in the footage released Wednesday. He is seen firing numerous rounds from a 9 mm handgun through the windshield of the patrol car while driving and reloading multiple times. At one point, he announces that he is low on ammunition, and requests an additional magazine from Staymates.
During the pursuit, one of the officers reports to dispatchers the Nava had been struck by bullet, possibly in the head. The chase ended within minutes, in front of the same house where it began, according to the report. Both officers fired multiple shots at him before approaching the vehicle and pulling him from the truck, the video showed.
The handgun brandished by Nava was later determined to be an air pistol that DA investigators described as “black in color and extremely similar in appearance to an authentic 9mm Luger pistol.” A knife was found in Nava’s hand, DA investigators added.
An autopsy determined that Nava had been struck by at least nine bullets. A toxicology exam found amphetamines and methamphetamine in his system.
Investigators with the DA’s Office determined that several witnesses, as well as video-surveillance and body-worn-camera footage, backed up the officers’ contention that they “reasonably feared for their lives.”