Mission Viejo Homeland Security Officer Not Guilty in Shooting

While everyone's attention at the moment may be rightly focused on the Mike Carona verdict, it's worth noting the recent outcome in a different law-enforcer-as-potential-law-breaker case that the Weekly has followed:  that of Mission Viejo Homeland Security officer Douglas Bates.

Superior Court Judge Patrick H. Donohue ruled yesterday that Bates was not guilty on the counts of murder or involuntary manslaughter for the shooting of Bassim Chmait, 20, in Feb. 2005.

The story goes like this. Chmait, an aspiring rapper studying business at Saddleback College, was with three friends outside of Bates' apartment complex, apparently making noise. Bates left the apartment in his pajamas carrying a gun, and some sort of altercation ensued between Chmait's crew and Bates. One of Chmait's friends ended up being pistol whipped, while Chmait was shot in the head and killed. The fallout: accusations of racial motives, claims of biased treatment of a law-enforcement officer, and four years until a "not guilty" verdict was reached for Bates.

"We felt the case was so emotionally charged that it should be handled by a judge," Senior Deputy District Attorney Howard Gundy, the prosecutor in the case, said in a phone interview today.

Gundy says he thinks the major issues in the case were the apparent unreliability of the witnesses, injuries sustained by Bates, and testimony provided by Bates that jibed with the physical evidence at the scene. For example, part of Bates' claim that it was all an accident relied on the idea that the gun went off point-blank into Chmait's head -- an assertion that was corroborated by gunpowder on Chmait's hat. The story that the judge ruled most plausible was that Chmait had gotten between one of his drunk friends and Bates to break up the fight when Bates' gun mistakenly fired.

"The case is so tragic in the fact that Bassim died a hero," Gundy said. "He was the one guy out there that wasn't intoxicated. He was trying to deescalate, but he was the one who took a bullet."


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