The Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) reports keep pouring in this holiday season like glasses of eggnog. The latest arrived Monday--although do keep those eyes peeled for one or two more before the year's end!
Unlike other letters the OCDA publishes, its most recent report is a legal review of an Orange County Sheriff's Department OCDA) investigation into an officer-involved shooting by Huntington Beach Police earlier this year. The encounter took the life of 20-year-old Ian Berrier in March and the agency's two cents were requested by Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. The OCDA stamped the officer's actions a-ok.
Around 4:30 p.m. on March 21 a restaurant owner in HB called cops saying he had been threatened by an armed man who was in the company of a woman. Huntington Beach Police officer Doug Martin was on his way to the scene on Warner Avenue, when helicopter cop Mark Wersching spotted the pair walking towards Hoskins Lane.
As Weekly readers will recall, Wersching himself pulled the trigger in 2001, killing 18-year-old Antonio Saldivar in a controversial on-duty shooting in the city's Oak View barrio. That incident came after a string of discipline-worthy actions like driving drunk, crashing and injuring a passenger, stealing fireworks from the Huntington Beach Fire Department, and an off-duty booze brawl on Main Street. (See Nick Schou's "The Wersching Machine") Lawsuit settlements, including $2.1 million to the Saldivar family, made him Surf City's costliest cop.
While Wersching hovered above, Martin caught up to Berrier on Hoskins Lane. He told OCSD investigators that the man was by himself and had been fidgeting around his waistband. Berrier pulled a gun and pointed it to the ground. Wersching corroborated the account saying he saw a black object taken out. Officer Martin fired multiple times striking Berrier down. The young man's weapon turned out to be a BB pistol.
After the shooting, Wersching tracked down the woman Berrier had been at the restaurant with earlier. Once detained, she claimed they had a history of domestic violence and that he had showed her the BB gun and had said something about committing 'suicide-by-cop.' Berrier died as a result of a gunshot wound to the head one that the legal review deems justified.
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"Based on all the evidence provided to the OCDA by the OCSD, and based on the entirety of the facts contained in all the available reports we reviewed," writes the OCDA's conclusion, "it is our legal opinion that the evidence does not support a finding of criminal culpability on the part of Officer Martin."
The legal review can be read in its entirety online.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz