An off-duty Los Angeles police officer on Feb. 21 fired his gun during an altercation with teenagers in Anaheim, Calif., the Anaheim Police Department said. No one was hit by the gunfire, and two teenagers were arrested. (YouTube/Osmin Jimenez)
Hundreds of people took to the streets of Anaheim, Calif., for a sprawling protest Wednesday night that was sparked by video footage showing an off-duty Los Angeles police officer firing his gun during a confrontation with teenagers a day earlier.
No one was hurt during the shooting, but the episode was recorded and widely shared across social media, sparking anger in the area and leading to a standoff on Anaheim’s streets between demonstrators and police. The officer involved was placed on leave, while two teenagers were arrested after the incident.
Police say they arrested 23 people — 18 adults, five juveniles — Wednesday night during the protests that followed. Authorities said the demonstrations involved between 200 and 300 people, and according to media accounts from the scene, many who gathered were young people who had seen the recording on social media.
The shooting incident captured on video, which occurred on a residential street in Anaheim at about 2:40 p.m. Tuesday, involved an off-duty officer having “a physical confrontation” that took place “in front of his residence with several juveniles,” police said.
“The confrontation began over ongoing issues with juveniles walking across the officer’s property,” the Anaheim Police Department said in a statement. “During the confrontation, a 13 year old male is alleged to have threatened to shoot the off-duty officer, at which time the officer attempted to detain the male until APD arrived.”
What followed was recorded in footage that spread online, showing the officer struggling with one teenager before being knocked over by another young person before he pulled out his gun and fired a single shot.
Raul Quezada, the Anaheim police chief, said Thursday that according to statements gathered from people involved, the officer shot at the ground rather than any person. Quezada said he was disturbed by the incident and that he wished the officer had not confronted the teenagers before on-duty officers arrived.
While no one was wounded or killed, the Anaheim episode comes on the heels of a number of protests in recent years across the country railing against how police officers have used force against people, particularly minorities. In many of these incidents, video recordings helped spur the outrage and anger. Anaheim police have said the videos going viral “do not depict the entire event.”
The officer has been placed on administrative leave, according to the Los Angeles Police Department, which said it is also investigating the shooting. That investigation will focus on whether the officer’s “use of deadly force” complied with Los Angeles police procedures, the department said.
After the confrontation, two teenagers were arrested, including a 13-year-old was booked in Orange County for criminal threats and battery, police said. The 13-year-old was later released. A 15-year-old was was arrested for assault and battery before being released to his parents.
Anaheim police did not identify the officer or the teenagers. Because the officer fired his gun, the incident is being investigated by Anaheim homicide detectives, and while the officer does not immediately face arrest, police say the investigation will be given to the district attorney’s office for a decision on possible charges.
“As a father and as a police chief, I too am disturbed by what I saw on the videos that were posted on the Internet,” Quezada, the police chief, said at a news briefing Thursday afternoon.
Quezada said that he has also seen body camera footage showing the first contacts with the people involved, “which have raised additional concerns as to what transpired.” He said police hope to give their investigation to the Orange County district attorney to make a decision on charges in two weeks.
Anaheim city officials vowed a thorough investigation into the incident.
“We as a city are left to figure all this out,” Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said at the briefing Thursday. “Anaheim is committed to a full and impartial investigation.”
Tait said he has heard from people wondering why the teenagers were arrested and not not the officer, and continued that he was wondering the same thing. Speaking after Tait, Quezada said that while there was evidence the officer detained the teenager and fired his gun, “there was insufficient evidence at the time to prove the officer’s actions rose to the level of a criminal act.”
However, Quezada said that due to the ongoing investigation, authorities released the 13-year-old from juvenile hall. He added that criminal charges could still be brought against “any and all” people involved.
Anger quickly bubbled up in the community. Anaheim police suggested they had received a flood of messages about the shooting, mentioning the ongoing investigation in a posting on Facebook and writing: “Calling and sending emails to APD voicing your displeasure will NOT impact the outcome.” Police later posted another message with a special telephone number for people to comment on the shooting.
This was followed by the protests that emerged in Anaheim, with demonstrators seen marching near the officer’s home and moving on streets in the area.
Police said everyone arrested faced charges of misdemeanors, including failing to disperse. After responding to the protests Wednesday night, police declared it an unlawful assembly, warning as the protest grew that “acts of violence and vandalism will not be tolerated.”
In a video recording of the confrontation and shooting that prompted the unrest, a crowd of people — many of them apparently teenagers, most of them wearing backpacks — can be seen standing around a residential sidewalk while an older, bald man in sunglasses is seen struggling with one young person.
The older man can be seen holding onto the younger person, who at one point in the recording says he is 13 and at another point says, “Let me go, for the last time.” As this continued, the gathered young people continued following the two of them across a home’s grassy yard.
After the younger boy says that his hand is going to be red, the older man tells him, “A lot of you’s going to be red because you’ve been resisting this whole time.” The younger boy insists he was not and says he “didn’t do anything to hurt you.” The older man can be heard saying the boy threatened to shoot him, which the younger boy in the recording denies.
While the gathered crowd continues watching, one other boy can be seen putting down his backpack on the ground and walking over, at which point he seems to try to break the two apart, although this part of the confrontation is obscured when the camera moves.
As the three of them are standing close together, another young boy in the crowd, still wearing his backpack, rushes over and slams his shoulder into the older man, pushing him toward a row of bushes. This boy quickly moves back and rejoins the others watching from a few feet away.
The older man appears to topple over the bushes, falling out of the frame, and the younger boy with whom he was struggling seems to be pulled along with him, while the boy who put down his backpack still holds on. The older man regains his footing on the other side of the bushes but continues holding onto the younger boy and pulls at him across the bushes.
The older man continues pulling on the boy and swipes at the other young person appearing to pull the boy back. When this happens, the young person who is holding onto the boy seems to take a swing at the man before backing up and briefly holding his hands in a fighting pose.
At this point, another young person jumps over the bushes to get on the same side as the man, and another person can be seen walking up toward him, as well.
The man then lifts his shirt to show a firearm tucked into his pants, which he pulls out, causing some of the people — including the youth who knocked the man into the bushes — to quickly back away. One of the people in the area says a sentiment others can be heard saying during the scuffle: “Hey, bro, chill, he’s a kid.”
The officer can then be heard firing one shot. Numerous people then turn and run, including a person recording the incident, who continues filming. One person can be heard saying, “What the f—?”