ANAHEIM, CA (FOX 11 / CNS) - Anaheim's police chief on Thursday defended the decision not to arrest an off-duty Los Angeles police officer who fired a weapon during an altercation with a group of teenagers, saying there was "insufficient evidence" at the time to indicate he committed a crime.
The skirmish and gunfire was caught on cell phone video that has since been widely circulated, contributing to protests that turned violent in Anaheim Wednesday night, resulting in nearly two dozen arrests. Some demonstrators questioned why Anaheim police arrested two teens involved in the Tuesday afternoon confrontation, but the officer was not.
Anaheim police Chief Raul Quezada told reporters his officers interviewed everyone involved in the skirmish, and arrested a 13-year-old boy on suspicion of making criminal threats, with the off-duty officer contending that the teen had threatened to shoot him. The boy said he told the off-duty officer he was going to "sue" him.
Another teen was arrested for allegedly assaulting the officer during the struggle. Quezada said the off-duty officer, who has not been identified, was interviewed and his weapon was seized.
"There was insufficient evidence at the time to prove the officer's actions rose to the level of a criminal act," Quezada said. The chief noted that the officer did not aim his weapon at anyone, but fired at the ground.
Quezada said the investigation would ultimately be turned over to the Orange County District Attorney's Office for review within two weeks, and although the officer was not arrested, "criminal charges could still be brought against any and all parties involved."
He added that the confrontation was the culmination of an ongoing dispute between the officer and teens who have repeatedly walked on his lawn.
"I personally wish the officer would have awaited our arrival before taking action," the chief said.
He also said that cell phone videos of the confrontation and shooting were not available at the time Anaheim police initially responded and made the decision to arrest the teens, who were later released.
Anaheim Mayor Tim Tait said he was disturbed by what he saw on the video, but he asked people to withhold judgment until an investigation is completed.
"This has been a blow to our community," the mayor said, adding that the confrontation "does not reflect a community where neighbors help each other every day to build a stronger city."
A civil-rights attorney blasted the actions of the off-duty officer, and said he plans to file legal claims for damages against the cities of Anaheim and Los Angeles on behalf of a pair of teens who were present during the Tuesday afternoon scuffle. Luis Carrillo said the officer "recklessly and dangerously" fired his weapon, and Anaheim police tried to "cover up" the officer's actions.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing LAPD officers, defended the off-duty officer, saying he acted in self-defense.
"The publicly available cell phone video shows that our officer was physically assaulted by multiple individuals and the officer sustained injuries," according to the union.
"There is no question, however, that when a police officer is attacked, they have a right and a duty to protect themselves, no matter the age of the offender," according to the LAPPL.
Dozens of people protested outside the officer's home near Euclid Street and Palai Road Wednesday night. Police initially said 24 people had been arrested, but Quezada put the number at 23 -- 18 adults and five juveniles.
The infractions attributed to the protestors were all misdemeanors and included failure to disperse, resisting arrest and battery on a peace officer, Anaheim police Sgt. Daron Wyatt said.
There were reports that several residences and vehicles, including the LAPD officer's, were vandalized amid the protests, but damage estimates were not immediately available.
The officer who fired his weapon is on administrative leave, according to the Los Angeles Police Department, whose Force Investigation Division is investigating the shooting and will review all video of the incident.
The confrontation between the off-duty officer and teens occurred about 2:40 p.m. Tuesday. For several months, the officer has been dealing with local teens walking across his lawn, Wyatt said, and the officer asking the teens to walk on the sidewalk Tuesday sparked the fight.
What's in dispute is what a 13-year-old said to the officer. The officer said he moved to detain the teen because the teen allegedly said he would shoot the officer, Wyatt said.
The boy and his mother insisted, however, that the teen said he would "sue" the officer for injuring him. On the video, the boy is heard insisting he said "sue you," not "shoot you."
At one point, another boy barreled into the officer, knocking him and the boy over some bushes, but the officer maintained his hold on the teen. Another teen also stepped in to try to pull the 13-year-old boy away, and that teen appears to take a punch at the officer, but failed to hit him.
The officer continued holding on to the 13-year-old and as he was getting up, other onlookers appeared to converge on the officer, who responded by pulling a gun out of his waistband. The teens started to back off, then ran when the officer fired a shot.
The officer continued to hold the 13-year-old until Anaheim police arrived.
The LAPD officer has been reassigned to a desk job, which is routine in an officer-involved shooting.
According to the LAPD, "The complete investigation will be reviewed by the chief of police and the Board of Police Commissioners to determine whether the use of deadly force complied with LAPD's policies and procedures."
Tait said the city is committed to a thorough, impartial investigation of Tuesday's shooting.
"Like many in the community, I've seen the video and I'm very concerned about what it shows," Tait said. "Anaheim is committed to a full and impartial investigation. Our city will move forward without delay."
Once the investigation is completed the results will be forwarded to the Orange County District Attorney's Office for review, Wyatt said.
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