Grave Error

Photo by James BunoanAnaheim Police Detective Tim Garcia didn't realize he was dead until a couple of weeks ago.

"I was sitting at my desk, and a couple of officers came up and showed me this newspaper article and said, 'Hey, you're dead,'" Garcia recalled. "Then my captain came in and said, 'I just wanted to make sure you're okay.' I brought the article home and showed it to my wife, and we both had a good laugh over it."

The officers who gave Garcia the bad news handed him a copy of my recent news story ("My Favorite Martin," Nov. 15). The article profiled one of Garcia's colleagues, Anaheim police officer and anti-immigration activist Harald Martin, who recently lost his seat on the Anaheim Union High School board. The article erroneously reported that Martin's career as an anti-immigration crusader began seven years ago when "fellow patrolman Tim Garcia was murdered by a Mexican who had illegally crossed the border."

After reading my story, Garcia wrote a letter to the editor insisting he wasn't dead. But in a later conversation, he added that he doesn't particularly care that it was an illegal immigrant who shot him.

"It's true that an illegal immigrant was the perpetrator of the crime, but a lot of citizens are criminals, too," Garcia said. "If I died, I don't think my family would care if he was an illegal immigrant or a citizen. Harald [Martin] definitely has strong feelings on the illegal immigrant issue," he added. "But I'm just indifferent to it."

On Sept. 8, 1995, Garcia and his partner responded to a 911 call that two men were shooting at each other on a street corner. "One of them was described as a male Hispanic wearing a white shirt and gray pants," Garcia recalled. After arriving on the scene in his squad car, he spotted a man matching that description walking down the street with his hand in his waistband. After a brief foot chase, Garcia and his partner cornered the suspect inside the pool area of a hotel near Disneyland.

Garcia and his partner approached the pool from opposite sides. Night had fallen; there were no lights. His partner had been foiled by a locked gate and was nowhere to be seen.

"As I continued to walk through that area, I noticed gun flashes," Garcia said.

He returned fire, shooting twice. The next thing Garcia remembers was wrestling with the suspect.

"He stuck his gun to my head. I pushed it away and two shots fired out. I returned fire but wasn't sure if I hit him. I felt one of his rounds hit me in the thigh."

Garcia had indeed fatally shot the man through the heart; he died at the scene. Meanwhile, one bullet had gone through Garcia's upper leg and another ricocheted off his pelvic bone and severed his colon. Because of the pain to his leg, Garcia had no idea he had been shot in the stomach; he didn't know there was a second bullet inside him until he reached the hospital. After emergency surgery and a week in the hospital, Garcia went home and made a full recovery.

Despite the fact that they view him as a hero, Martin and his minions in the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR) have never brought Garcia to their rallies. Perhaps that's because, to the anti-immigration movement, Garcia is more valuable as a mythical martyr than as a living, breathing person who doesn't particularly care about illegal immigration.

Anti-immigration ideologues such as Martin, CCIR founder Barbara Coe and the rest of CCIR have made much of the fact that Garcia was shot by an illegal immigrant. To them, the shooting proves not only that illegal immigrants are a menace to society, but also that the anti-immigration movement isn't racist—because Garcia is himself of Mexican heritage.

But it's unclear how many CCIR members are even aware that Garcia didn't die in the shooting. That's because during countless speeches at CCIR meetings, Martin always explains that he got the idea of bringing an Immigration and Naturalization Service agent inside the city jail after Garcia "was shot by an illegal immigrant." Martin has always been careful not to say Garcia was murdered; saying he was "shot" tends to leave people—even reporters who ought to know better—with the impression that Garcia died.

Six months after being shot, still recovering from his wounds, Garcia went back to work. He has never looked back. He says he just feels lucky to have survived. Garcia also said the recent news story wasn't the first time he's heard about his mythical death.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, he was called to serve in a reserve unit of the Coast Guard. One of his shipmates was an INS agent. The two men started talking about the INS program that deports criminals who are sent to the Anaheim jail—a program Martin helped put together after being inspired by Garcia's shooting at the hands of an illegal immigrant.

"He was talking about the jail program and didn't realize who I was," Garcia recalled. "I asked him if he knew how it got started, and he said, 'I think some cop got shot and killed by an illegal or something.'"


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >