Video: Police Shoot Homeless Man In 'Bizarre' Encounter
A 32-year-old homeless man was shot by police Monday morning in Santa Ana, and a defense attorney who witnessed the encounter says he found it "bizarre." At about 9:30 a.m. on Monday morning, a pair of officers encountered a man at 600 N. Ross Street in the Civic Center, City News Service reports. According to Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna, the man became aggressive with officers as they attempted to detain him. A struggle ensued between the man and the two officers, during which the man allegedly reached in the direction of one of the officer's guns, and was shot by officers in the upper torso.
"[The officer] feared for his partner's safety and the safety of the other people around," Bertagna said.
The man was later identified as 32-year-old Richard Gene Swihart, according to the OC Register. He is currently in the hospital in critical condition.
Defense attorney Scott Thomas told the OC Weekly that he came upon the encounter prior to the shooting and had a bad feeling about it, but decided not to record any video because "nothing was really happening." Then, he said he heard an officer yell out that Swihart had a gun, followed by two shots. At that point, Thomas began recording. In the video, you can hear the man call for help. More officers arrive at the scene and order the bystanders to back up, which is where Thomas' video ends.
Another witness, Linda Gonzalez, told the Register that she has been a transient in the area for a while and has seen Swihart many times. She described him as "quiet." She said she had seen him prior to the shooting riding his bike around without a shirt on. It's not clear why officers wanted to detain Swihart in the first place, though riding a bike through Civic Center is not permitted. Gonzalez said she heard an officer cry out "my gun!" before she heard three gunshots.
While the ol' "he was reaching for an officer's gun" line has become disturbingly common with the rash of police shootings lately, Thomas believes what he witnessed was strange for multiple reasons. He told the Weekly:
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.
Paul Leon, CEO of Illumination Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping the homeless of Orange, said he is hoping county officials will respond to the shooting by taking action. He said a number of homeless people have been residing in the Civic Center area in conditions that are unsafe.
"Sadly, I'm surprised something like this didn’t happen sooner. It's a public health nightmare, and if it's not a violent shooting it could be any kind of infectious disease," Leon told the Register.