OCDA Clears Anaheim Cop Who Mistook Cellphone for Gun in Fatal Shooting
Courtesy Ruby Ponce
The Orange County District Attorney's office released a report today justifying last November's deadly shooting of Adalid Flores, an unarmed man, by Anaheim police officer Lorenzo Uribe. Flores fled the scene of a traffic collision on the 91 Freeway when an off-duty Los Angeles Police Department cop saw him running away with a friend. A few minutes later, the California Highway Patrol called Anaheim PD for help.
According to the OCDA's report, officer John Yoo responded to the scene. "Fuck, let's do this," Flores said before running from a center divider towards a home on East Street near the freeway. Officer Uribe and his partner Scott Eden arrived at the house where a now shirtless Flores paced back-and-forth in the driveway with one hand behind his back and dug the other into his pocket. "Let me see your hands," Uribe commanded three times with his weapon drawn. "Fuck you!" Flores responded.
Eden told Uribe two times that Flores held a cellphone. "Don't say that!' his partner said. Yoo thought he held a wallet. "I can't see dude," Uribe said. "I don't think it's a cell phone...I think it's a gun." Anaheim helicopter cop James Elliot broadcast that he believed Flores held an object in his right hand that "might be" a weapon. That's all Uribe needed to issue a last call for Flores to show his hands. He fidgeted around, instead, for four seconds—the lapse of time between Uribe's command and opening fire.
But police found nothing on Flores save for the cellphone Eden stated that he had seen. Paramedics transferred the 29-year-old to UCI Medical Center in Orange where he was pronounced dead from two gunshot wounds.
Uribe later told OCDA investigators that Eden only told him he thought Flores had a cellphone, although in audio recordings, his partner can only be heard saying "cell phone" without a qualifier. Uribe dismissed the assessment, perhaps because Eden was a rookie policeman with just six months on the job. He also likened Flores' hostile demeanor to that of a "coffee pot that's boiling," leading him to conclude he wasn't dealing with an "average or normal criminal." In Eden's voluntary statement to investigators, he recalled telling Uribe that the object was a cellphone or thought it looked like one.
The OCDA pondered facts that could undermine a jury's belief that Uribe reasonably thought Flores was armed when he shot him, including Eden and Yoo saying they saw a cellphone and a wallet, respectively. The report also notes that both officers said in statements that they had their weapons drawn because Flores could have been armed and would have shot had he moved his arms towards them. But he didn't and they didn't.
"Despite statements by Officers Eden and Yoo that Flores did not have a gun, it is our conclusion that we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Uribe did not have a reasonable belief that Flores was armed and posed an an immediate danger to the officers or others," the OCDA report reads.
Flores' criminal history is briefly mentioned in the form of a 2010 arrest for resisting arrest. What's not mentioned is that Flores isn't the first unarmed man shot by Uribe. When serving with the Long Beach Police Department in 2010, he fired on Carlos Eduardo Romo, a car jacking suspect, after a short high-speed pursuit. "Don't do anything stupid, or I'll shoot you," a shotgun wielding Uribe told Romo. While lying on the ground, Romo reached to pick up his sagging pants when Uribe opened fire. Romo survived. Flores didn't.
As always, you can read the report in its entirety online.