Anaheim officials pressed for calm Thursday after a night of raucous protests that followed an incident in which an off-duty policeman scuffled in his front yard with a boy, drew a weapon and fired a shot into the ground after another teen pushed him over a hedge and others surrounded him. No one was injured but two teenagers were arrested after the incident, which spurred dozens of people to protest against police Wednesday night in the streets of Anaheim, where the officer lives and the confrontation occurred.
Mayor Tom Tait said he was “deeply disturbed” and angered by what he saw on video of the incident, but he also denounced violence and damage caused by demonstrators. “The video shows an adult wrestling with a 13-year-old kid, and ultimately firing a gun,” Tait said. “This has been a blow to our community.”
The street demonstrations five years after unruly protests over two fatal police shootings served as a reminder that the home of Disneyland, dubbed “The Happiest Place on Earth,” has the problems of any city with 350,000 residents.
No one was hurt in the scuffle on a residential street that started Tuesday after the Los Angeles officer took action in an ongoing dispute with students walking after school. The officer had reported the problem in the past to local police, said Anaheim Sgt. Daron Wyatt.
Police Chief Raul Quezada defended his department’s decision to arrest two teens, but not the officer, who detained the 13-year-old boy after believing the boy threatened him. The investigation continues and the chief wouldn’t rule out charges against anyone involved.
Videos shot from different angles show the officer clenching the boy’s sweatshirt and pulling him across the lawn as they argued about what precipitated the incident. The 13-year-old believed the officer, who was not named, had cursed at a teenage girl who had walked across his lawn in the area of single-family homes, many with tidy flower beds and well-pruned trees, about 2 miles west of Disneyland.
Michael Carrillo, an attorney representing the teenage girl, said she had “grazed” the officer’s lawn when he began shouting expletives at her. Carrillo said the altercation turned physical after the boy stepped in and told the officer he shouldn’t curse at a child.
In the video, the officer said he had heard the boy say he was going to “shoot” him, but the teen insists he said he was going to “sue” him. At one point, the teen said, “Let me go. … I’m only 13.” Another youth rushed the officer, who stumbled back through a low hedge, still holding the 13-year-old.
A teen then took a swing at the officer. Other kids approached, and the man — still gripping the 13-year-old with one hand — pulled a gun from his waistband, crouched and fired a shot. Teens shooting video began running down the street and cursing.
The 13-year-old, who is the stepson of an Anaheim police officer, was booked on suspicion of making a criminal threat and battery. A 15-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of assault and battery. Both boys, who weren’t named because they’re juveniles, were later released, Quezada said.
The union representing Los Angeles police officers said the officer had a right to self-defense after being physically assaulted. If he mistakenly thought the boy said “shoot” instead of “sue,” he had a reasonable basis to fear for his safety, said Jon Shane, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“You can always be mistaken about the facts, but you must be right about the law,” Shane said.
“Shooting and suing are two different things and they clearly have two different outcomes. … Shooting would provide a reasonable basis for imminent fear of bodily harm. The other not so much.”
Carillo has filed a claim against the cities of Anaheim and Los Angeles, the precursor to a civil lawsuit, alleging the incident shows the Los Angeles Police Department was deficient in training officers.
Attorney Carl Douglas, who is not involved in the case, called it an outrageous use of force and intimidation and questioned the officer’s qualifications. “Anyone present could have been killed because of this reckless use of force,” Douglas said. “Because someone was walking on his grass, this officer thought the circumstances justified his walking out of his house with his gun in his waistband to confront some teenager.”
The LAPD is also investigating the incident. Hundreds of people marched through suburban Anaheim streets late Wednesday, some blocking traffic and carrying signs that said “no shooting zone.” Police arrested two dozen people, including children, after the crowd ignored orders to disperse.
The city 24 miles southeast of Los Angeles was roiled in 2012 by demonstrations following the fatal police shootings of two unarmed Latino men. The deaths sparked four days of violent protests resulting in smashed shop windows and dozens of arrests.
Neighbor Joe Gulrich, 76, said his house was spray-painted during the protest on Wednesday and police told him he should leave for his own safety. When he returned late at night, he found a rock had been thrown through his front window.
“He did the right thing,” Gulrich said.
“If he hadn’t done that they would have ganged up on him.”