The Anaheim PD Video on the Killing of Brandon Lopez.

The September 28 killing of unarmed Brandon Lopez in Santa Ana, by Anaheim SWAT officers Paul Delgado*, Bret Heitman, Caitlin Panov & Ken Weber, got a lot more attention than most police killings in Orange County, mainly because Brandon’s cousin is Santa Ana Councilman Johnathan Hernandez, a politician who was already focused on police reform, and also because Brandon had a huge family and was well known and loved by many. Last week the Anaheim Police Department released their 21-minute “Critical Incident Community Briefing” video, which we post below.

Due to recent reforms, police departments now release these videos six weeks or so after each incident, and obviously they present the police’s case in the best light possible. Highly edited, and known for exaggerations and omissions, they attempt to make the case that the police did what they had to do, there was no way around it, and the person killed was a really dangerous bad person. Much of the credulous, fearful public take these videos as gospel truth.

One thing you always see is a concerned-looking police spokesman explaining to the audience, “This is what you are going to see here…” followed by a chunk of video where you often DON’T see what they describe – a recipe for gaslighting. But, people being suggestible, it works to a degree. The Fullerton Police’s Hector Hernandez video last year was a classic of that genre.

This Anaheim video goes there too, toward the end (16:16 to 17:40) when it repeatedly shows you how Brandon, when driven blindly out of the car, “appears” to have a black object in his hand, which cops should be forgiven for assuming it was a gun … but *I* don’t see any black object in his hand. A shadow, maybe, as he ran in the dark. And he was NOT running toward any officers, but off in a random direction in a rush to get away from the gas. They say they found, underneath his corpse, a plastic water bottle in a black pouch, but it doesn’t even look like he had THAT in his hand when he ran.

The main thing Anaheim police are trying to prove in this video is that they were right to suspect Brandon was armed, and to make that case they list all the crimes he was wanted for, including armed robbery. A few things:

  • Doing that may have some relevance in this case, but it’s really offensive when they list a victim’s alleged past transgressions when the killing officer didn’t even know about them, as in the case of Manuel Diaz and many others – that is all aimed to make the public think, “Ah well, we’re better off without that menace alive.”
  • When a victim has a perfect or not-so-bad record (like Hector Hernandez), police departments never see fit to mention that.
  • Brandon was never convicted of any of those charges so it’s wrong for the public to assume he even necessarily did those things. They mention ONE conviction on his record – resisting arrest – and that can be running from officers, or even wrestling a little when they grab you.

The APD spends a quarter of the video – over five minutes – showing footage of the car chase to Tustin and back (to Brandon’s family neighborhood.) Sure, people like to watch car chases, but this happened hours earlier and has (or should have) no bearing on why he was shot by 22 rounds exiting his car that night. Unless the point is to make him out to be a big menace, unworthy of our concern.

Big Questions Remaining:

Why did the APD & SAPD PHYSICALLY PREVENT FAMILY MEMBERS from going up to the car to peacefully talk Brandon out? Several family members told police that Brandon was having a mental crisis and that THEY could talk him out peacefully, but they were forcibly kept away from the scene. The SAPD even locked Brandon’s dad Tony Lopez (right) in the back of a cruiser, till all the killing was over.

The “suicide by cop” report. It’s mentioned at 13:00 that some relative or friend of Brandon had reported to Santa Ana police that they’d spoken to Brandon by phone and that he “intended to commit suicide by cop.” That’s a weird thing to tell the cops, if that was really what the caller said. Even if they did, I’m pretty sure (aren’t you?) that that’s not all they said. Did they also say he was unarmed? I think we need to hear a tape of that call. These critical incident videos DO include recordings of such calls, when they’re helpful to the police’s case.

Brandon probably figured, reasonably, that he had a good chance of being shot fatally if and when he left the car under any circumstance. But if he wanted to commit “suicide by cop,” why did he sit there for hours, drinking water, getting high, writing a note, and apparently falling asleep, before being forced out by an explosion and tear gas?

The “NOTE.” Santa Ana Police watching from above saw him writing a note, and they say they found it. I assume it was left for his family and friends in case the worst happened, and I hope they’ve been able to see it. But that also doesn’t show that he wanted to commit suicide by cop, or that the cops should oblige.

The “less-than-lethal projectile.” At 17:50 we’re informed that, after pumping 22 rounds into Brandon and felling him, they were spooked that he might come back to life and fire on them, so they hit his limp prone body with a “less-than-lethal projectile” to make sure he was dead and unresponsive. HELLO??? Where was that non-lethal round seconds earlier, when he ran out of the car in a blind panic? Those non-lethal rounds will make a guy scream and fall, just watch the Daniel Ramirez video from 2019.

We’ll see what AG Rob Bonta comes up with, and we’re glad that a new law sends the investigation of the killing of an unarmed person to him rather than our DA Todd Spitzer, who we’re sure would come up with a way to claim that these four heavily armored SWAT police “feared for their lives®.”

But it sure looks like Delgado, Heitman, Panov and Weber had no justification for opening fire on Brandon the moment they forced him out of the car. That was NOT STARTLING, for him to jump out and run. They had just blown up his window and filled his car with gas, what else did they THINK was gonna happen next?

If they had just let family members talk Brandon Lopez out, or if they had hit the confused running man with a non-lethal projectile…

Then he’d be in jail now facing his previous charges, as well as reckless driving, car theft and resisting arrest. And his four kids, parents, siblings and cousins, could be visiting him in jail. And he could be getting the help he needs. And some year down the road he could be a productive citizen and attentive father. And we wouldn’t be going through all this shit.

*************

OK. The police spokesmen like to say “This is what you’re about to see.” Now I’ve done my version of “This is what you’re about to see.” Watch:

*Officer Paul Delgado previously shot and paralyzed fleeing Kenneth Yamashita-Magarro in 2018, after pursuing him to Irvine, causing Anaheim an expensive lawsuit.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.