In Anaheim, Sticks And Stones Can Kill You
**Update: Julian Alexander's family has released a statement expressing their disappointment over the DA's decision not press charges against Kevin Fagan. "The shooting represents an egregious act of excessive and unnecessary force, and the impact of this tragedy has devastated and irreparably harmed his wife and young daughter...," the statement reads.
If an innocent man waves a glorified broomstick at a police officer, is the officer justified in fatally shooting said stick-brandisher in the name of self defense? Apparently, yes. At least that's what prosecutors at the DA's office concluded after investigating whether or not to file charges against Anaheim police officer Kevin Flanagan, who shot and killed 20-year-old Julian Alexander in front of Alexander's home last October. Flanagan, a ten year veteran of the Anaheim Police department, had not been named until today.
Prosecutors announced yesterday that they would not be pressing charges against Flanagan and today they held a press conference to explain their reasoning. Their task, said senior assistant district attorney David Brent in charge of homicide investigations, was to determine beyond a reasonable doubt whether the officer committed a crime. "Much of the law comes down to whether or not the officer was engaged in lawful self defense," Brent said. They concluded that he was, and that a jury would have thought so too. This despite Flanagan's acknowledgment that he never once thought Alexander -- who had stepped out into his yard with the stick because the burglary suspects Flanagan was chasing had woken him up -- was holding anything other than a three to four foot-long stick.
Alexander's family members have said it was a broomstick. But the officer "felt it was not a stick he'd found on the ground outside but was a potential weapon," Brent said, since it was wrapped in black tape at the end.
The details of the confrontation that led up to the shooting were based on interviews with Flanagan -- who'd been on duty since 2:30 p.m. that day -- and the four juveniles he was chasing through the Anaheim neighborhood at around midnight Oct. 28 before winding up at Alexander's house. Just after midnight, Julian Alexander, went outside when he heard a commotion in his backyard. He yelled at the juveniles to leave.
Flanagan dropped his pursuit of the suspects and shone a bright flashlight on Alexander. He told prosecutors that he told Alexander to drop the stick repeatedly. Alexander, likely blinded by the light, lifted the stick up to his chest, (while still 15 feet away), and yelled an expletive, according to Flanagan's testimony. Flanagan told prosecutors he felt threatened by Alexander who walked toward him and "looked angry, with a tight jaw." When Alexander was still 10 feet away, Flanagan decided to pull out his gun, (instead of his taser, which he was also carrying), and fatally shot Alexander twice in the chest before handcuffing him. Prosecutors concluded that this was okay because it's what any other reasonable police officer would have done in the same situation, they said.
"In a circumstance where it's dark and there's a lot going on...the police officer is required to do his duty, to follow those people...Now he's in a dark place and a person has a stick up. That's a moment of decision and a reasonable police officer would shoot that person," said county DA Tony Rackauckas. "He's about to be assaulted and has a right to defend himself and I think the public understands that."
Public outcry over the shooting death of Alexander -- who had no prior criminal record, was newly married and was expecting his first child with his wife -- over what his family and others considered excessive use of force against him. Two separate federal civil-rights lawsuits have been filed by family members and are set to begin next month. Anaheim police confirmed today that the 32-year-old Flanagan had not been involved in any other officer involved shootings.
The ACLU released a statement today regarding the DA's decision to abandon a case against Flanagan. "We are very concerned that this questionable officer shooting has not gotten the full and transparent scrutiny that the Alexander family and the public deserve," said Hector Villagra, director of the ACLU/SC's Orange County office in a statement sent to the Weekly today.
During Rackauckas's 10-year reign, the DA's office has only once pursued charges in an officer-involved shooting case (against Douglas Bates, a customs officer, in 2005). In 2004, the Weekly found that of the 50 officer-related shootings that had occurred in the past five years, none had been pursued by the DA's office. Since then, there have been more. In 2007 the DA's office cleared two Huntington Beach police officers involved in the shooting death of Ashley MacDonald, who was shot 15 times when she charged at the officers with a knife. In that case, the DA's office upheld the finding by the Sheriff's Department that if an armed suspect is within 21 feet, an officer who fears for his or her life is allowed to shoot to kill.
Assistant DA Brent said the state Attorney General can review the investigation and overturn the decision not to prosecute Flanagan. To date, there has been no interest expressed on the part of the Attorney General Brent said.