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Unarmed Man Shot Dead By Police At Wal-Mart Store

by Michael Webster Friday, Jan. 25, 2008 at 5:45 PM 949 494-7121

In Orange County, police decide when to use deadly force, and police agencies get to investigate themselves. They release only the information they want to release when the investigation is complete

Police are saying a man wanted by Anaheim police was shot to death Sunday night during a struggle with Santa Ana police officers behind a Wal-Mart store.

The shooting occurred about 8:42 p.m. at 3600 W. McFadden Ave. near Harbor Boulevard, said Cmdr. James Schnabl of the Santa Ana Police Department. The time frame is now important to the case. There is a question as to when did the cops actually know that the suspect was wanted? Was he shot before the officers knew he was wanted? How did that wanted warrant information get transmitted to the Santa Ana cops? The Journal contacted the Anaheim police to ask questions. What time did the Anaheim Police notify the Santa Ana police? What were the circumstances surrounding that notification? The Anaheim police refused to answer those and other questions, saying they did not want to be quoted and referred the Journal to the Orange County District Attorney's Office to prosecutor Fara Emami who did not answer our phone calls.

At least two officers were sent to the store after reports that a man sought by the Anaheim Police Department was there. The fact of who called the police is now in question. Was it a tipster, informant, undercover officer, Wal-Mart employee or just who made the call is still not clear?

 Reportedly the officers spotted the unidentified man and gave chase apprehending him in the back of the store and an struggle ensued. It's unclear if one or more officers shot the man, Schnabl said.

An unnamed caller who says he saw the fight has told the Journal that he did not see the victim with a gun and that he felt like the police used unnecessary force. The man was pronounced dead at the scene, According to Schnabl. Callers to the Journal said, the shooting was witnessed by Wal-Mart employees, shoppers and dramatized shocked children.

Authorities said, "No officers or bystanders were reported injured during the incident". What provoked the officer or officers to shoot is unknown?

The Laguna Journal has learned that the incident is being investigated by both the Anaheim and Santa Ana Police Departments and the Orange County District Attorney's Office because it is a so called officer-involved shooting. According to Anaheim police information officer Sgt Martinez.

According to Orange County news accounts there have been a rush of officer involved shootings in Orange County. This was the third officer-involved shooting in just eight days in Orange County. The law gives an officer wide--close to carte blanche--discretion to use lethal force if he says he believed his own life or someone else's was in jeopardy. Prosecutors in the Orange County District Attorney's Office, who are charged with and review police shootings here, never find wrongdoing. If that isn't enough of a cushion, Orange County residents provide the rest. Courthouse observers can't remember a single example of a local jury ever siding against a Orange County cop.

In California, police decide when to use deadly force, and police agencies get to investigate themselves. They release only the information they want to release when the investigation is complete. The agencies can shield information about "bad apple" cops from the public. And those of us who simply want a little more debate and accountability are told that it's unconscionable to second-guess the authorities. I don't mean to be alarmist here, but the Webster's definition of a police state, i.e., a political system characterized "by an arbitrary exercise of power by police," is starting to cut a little too close to the bone.

Lawyers say the Orange County Grand Jury should investigate these shootings independent of the police and local persecutors, that the grand jury does have the authority to do. They could even appoint a independent attorney to help persecute the legal process, without the Orange County District Attorney's Office being involved. Or the California Attorney General has the authority to investigate and persecute law enforcement wrong doing.

Police reported the unnamed man was shot Sunday night after a so called “ physical altercation” with several officers. Even though no other injuries were reported. According to news reports Corporal Anthony Bertagna said, the officers confronted the man after receiving reports that he was wanted by Anaheim police on an arrest warrant. When asked if the man who was killed was armed police refused comment.

The man’s identity was not released to the press. A police spokesman said "he had no immediate information on the man, or what he was wanted for," or what he was doing that first got the officers attention. The Laguna Journal has learned that the unidentified suspect was wanted by the Anaheim Police Department on several warrants, including carjacking. Police refused to say if they had received a shop lifting, suspicious person call, or other emergency call in regard to the matter. It is not clear if they stumbled on to him or what? Anaheim police are not returning our calls. The Santa Ana Police Department has not released the name or names of the officers involved in the shooting. The Police continue to withhold details surrounding this case.

There have been killings at other Wal-Mart stores and at least 30 similar deaths of unarmed shoplifting suspects across the country during the past few years. The suspects were either shot and killed, or they suffocated in struggles with "loss-prevention" employees, security guards or police, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of a major news database.

An Orange County criminal defense trial lawyer demanding to remain anonymous told the Journal, "The question remains if there where several officers involved and the suspect was unarmed why did the police find it necessary to shoot him"?

The police seem unable or unwilling to determine where exactly the shooting took place. Did this incident happen in the Wal-Mart store? As one officer said. Or did it happen behind the store, garden shop, or in the parking lot as others have reported?

Until the police give more details and facts of this case many questions remain. The Laguna Journal will continue to investigate this matter. Anyone with more information or anyone who witnessed the incident last Sunday at Wal-Mart at the address above contact the Laguna Journal at 949 494-7121. Or e-mail at . You can remain anonymous.

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