Shoot First, Ask No Questions Later

Sheriff will investigate cops in HB shooting, but OC has already declared them tragic heroes

The shootings continued—and increasingly involved distraught individuals apparently bent on committing suicide by cop. On July 3, 2004, nine Huntington Beach cops shot and killed Steven Williams Hills, who had called 911 threatening to kill himself or a police officer. The officers confronted Hills on a street corner and shot him when he brandished a gun—a gun that turned out to be a fake. And on Jan. 9, 2005, two officers shot and wounded a suicidal young woman in an apartment laundry room after she allegedly shot at them.

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There's added mystery behind Huntington Beach's pattern of police shootings. Why is Huntington Beach the only major city in Orange County where the sheriff's department, as opposed to the district attorney's office, investigates officer-involved shootings? Huntington Beach police and the Sheriff's Department agreed to the arrangement in a September 1999 "Memorandum of Understanding." But nobody knows why.

Oops, I forgot my pepper spray
Oops, I forgot my pepper spray

"We've been doing that for a number of years," said Lt. Terry Lindsay, a Huntington Beach police watch commander. "I wasn't in the decision process, but that's something we've been doing for a long time."

It's possible, of course, that Huntington Beach cops somehow think they'll get more favorable treatment from the sheriff's department than from the DA's office. The DA has the power to bring officers before the civilian-staffed Orange County grand jury, where they could be indicted on murder charges. But that's never happened. Since 1998, the DA has investigated dozens of officer-involved shootings and has never prosecuted an Orange County cop for shooting anybody.

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Postscript:Your right to know the circumstances surrounding police shootings just got weaker, and not just in Orange County. On Aug. 31, the California Supreme Court ruled that the public has no right to examine the disciplinary records of officers whose poor performance or outrageous conduct actually gets them fired.

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