California police shot a homeless man Monday after claiming he tried to grab one of their guns.
The actual shooting, so far, has not surfaced on video, but the immediate aftermath was recorded and posted on YouTube, showing two Santa Ana police officers detaining a handcuffed man, who is shirtless and on the ground screaming in pain as witnesses yell at the officers to get off him.
A Santa Ana police spokesperson said he was not sure why police tried to detain the 32-year-old man in the first place, but he was sure to mention the officers were in fear for their lives.
According to the Orange Country Register:
Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said two officers from the Civic Center Patrol Unit were in the area near the Plaza of the Flags about 9:30 a.m. when they tried to detain Richard Gene Swihart, a local transient. Bertagna did not know why the officers stopped the man.
Bertagna said Swihart became hostile and got into a physical altercation with one of the officers. At one point, Swihart tried to grab the officer’s gun, prompting the officer’s partner to fire multiple rounds, striking Swihart in the upper torso, Bertagna said.
“(The officer) feared for his partner’s safety and the safety of the other people around,” Bertagna said.
Swihart remains in critical condition at a local hospital.
Linda Gonzalez, who knows Swihart, said he was riding his bicycle through the area before the altercation.
She then heard someone yell, “my gun,” followed by three shots. She then heard Swihart yelling for help.
Other witnesses told the Register they did not see the shooting, but heard the shots, then saw the officers handcuffing Swihart.
The area in front of the Civic Center has long been known for its homeless population, but recently, the population has soared to about 500 because of high rents and people being released from jail.
UPDATE: The man who recorded the video below told the OC Weekly that police were accusing the man of holding a gun, but that the man did not have a gun.
Here is what Thomas filmed on his cell phone right after the shooting; at one point you hear the man being held down cry out, “I can’t breathe, I’m dying:”
“I heard one of the officers yell ‘he’s got a gun! He’s got a gun,’ then immediately I heard two shots,” Thomas recalls. “From my perspective as a criminal defense attorney, it was odd that a) a restrained man was able to reach for a firearm in such a manner that it posed a threat to officers; and b) that the officer had his gun drawn (I’m assuming) prior to the observation of the subject (allegedly) possessing a firearm (I’m basing this on how quickly the shots rang out after I heard the officers call out “he’s got a gun,”); and the fact that I didn’t observe a gun or anything resembling a gun near the subject, nor did I observe the officers sweeping anything away from the subject.”
That might explain why police resorted to the old, “he tried to grab my gun” justification.