Was the police shooting in Santa Ana justified?

The L.A. Times, Orange County edition, reported yesterday that “Four days after Santa Ana police fatally shot the driver of a stolen SUV following a 20-minute chase, authorities refused to say whether he was armed or why officers fired at him.”

Here are a few excerpts from the Times article:

Police have acknowledged firing at him two different times, first at Dyer Road and Hotel Terrace Drive. The second time occurred after Powell drove down the embankment of the 55 Freeway at MacArthur Boulevard and came to a stop.

Witnesses said eight to 15 officers fired as many as 20 shots at the SUV. A female passenger emerged unscathed and was arrested on suspicion of parole violation.

Police said Powell had a history of weapons and narcotics violations and there was a warrant out for his arrest on a narcotics violation.

Santa Ana police spokesman Cpl. Jose Gonzalez declined to state the specific threat Powell presented and referred questions to the district attorney’s office, which investigates all officer-related shootings. He said his department is investigating whether the shooting was in line with its policy.

Susan Schroeder, a spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney, declined to discuss the specifics of the case as a matter of office policy.

“Our slice of the pie is very narrow,” she said. “We’re basically determining whether a police officer violated the law or not.” And that is different from whether an officer broke department policy.

Prosecutions for officers using excessive or deadly force are rare, according to experts.

Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina, said it may mislead the public when police departments have outside agencies investigate officer-involved shootings.

“They’re not looking at whether or not the shooting was justified; they just look to see if a crime was committed,” he said. “As important as whether a crime was committed is whether the shooting was justified.”

Michelle Pinoosh, a Tustin mortgage lender who was driving about the time of the shooting on nearby streets as she picked up her children from school, said the officers’ behavior seemed reckless.

“Why would you open fire on a freeway in the afternoon when school gets out?” she asked. “It just seemed incredibly irresponsible.”

My guess is that the SAPD knew the guy they were chasing was dangerous and had a history of using weapons. So they did not take any chances. But you hate to see the public endangered.

The Times article raised many good questions, which will probably go unanswered. I don’t have much confidence in our O.C. District Attorney, and the City of Santa Ana is not exactly the most open local government around.

I think Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez’ response, as reported in the O.C. Register, is also worth noting:

Santa Ana City Councilwoman Michele Martinez said she would request an inquiry into the incident, especially into the manner in which police conducted themselves and the amount of force that was used.

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