Santa Ana Gang Suppression Unit detectives patrolled a neighborhood on the afternoon of Jan. 29, 2017 when they happened on a silver Nissan stopped in the middle of an alleyway. Steve Salgado got out of the car and began walking away from the police. Detective David Prewett gave chase, leading to a short foot-pursuit that ended in Salgado's violent death at 18.
The Orange County District Attorney's (OCDA) office released a report yesterday afternoon detailing the fatal officer-involved shooting that led to angry protests in the aftermath. It notes that the South Birch Street incident happened in an area controlled by Walnut Street, a criminal gang considered to be one of the most violent by police. Two previous homicides occurred in the neighborhood at the time and residents phoned in reports of shots fired on a weekly basis.
When Salgado fled, Detective Taylor Salo and his partner Scott Collard followed him by car. Salo saw that Salgado "maintained a firm grip on an item" in the front pocket of his shorts and radioed a "417" code to fellow officers warning that he may possibly be armed with a gun. Salgado continued running through an apartment courtyard when Salo unsuccessfully tried to cut him off. Salo and Collard got out of their car and chased Salgado around a parked motor home.
Prewett and Salo had their weapons drawn when they issued commands. "Drop the gun!" Prewett said. "Stop. Police!" Salo added. Salgado continued running and looked back over his left shoulder towards Prewett when the detective opened fire three times. Salgado slumped to the ground. Officers searched his body, but found no weapons, only a meth pipe and two broken cellphones. Paramedics arrived and pronounced Salgado dead at the scene minutes later.
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The OCDA report cites poor quality surveillance video showing Salgado clutching onto something and possibly throwing it away, but doesn't clearly show the exact moment when Prewett decided to shoot. Prewett didn't talk to investigators about the incident, but two of his fellow detectives did. Collard believed Salgado was armed with a weapon and would use it against officers if given the chance. Detective Matthew Clear thought the same to be true because Salgado was "running in that area...dressed like a typical Hispanic gang member."
The OCDA notes the interviews and Salgado's status as a documented gang member in deciding against pressing charges in the shooting. "Detective Prewett declined to give a statement to OCDA investigators, so we do not have direct evidence about his frame of mind," the report concludes. "However, two officers that did give statements both drew their weapons and were prepared to use deadly force against Salgado."
With that, the OCDA cleared Prewett for the second time in the killing of an unarmed Latino in Santa Ana. In 2012, the agency cleared him in the shooting death of Elmer Perez, who pointed a replica toy gun at officers.
As always, read the report in its entirety online.