Richard Gene Swihart, Homeless Man Shot by Santa Ana Police, is Dead

Two Santa Ana police officers wrestle with Richard Gene Swihart.
Two Santa Ana police officers wrestle with Richard Gene Swihart.
Courtesy of Scott C. Thomas, Esq.

Here's one that almost slipped through the cracks: Remember Richard Gene Swihart, the 32-year-old homeless man who was shot during a struggle with two Santa Ana police officers outside the Orange County Superior Court building on Aug. 1?

The struggle about 9:30 a.m. near the Plaza of the Flags that was videotaped by a passerby who later told the Weekly it did not appear Swihart was armed?

Swihart has since passed away, the Santa Ana Police Department disclosed last week.

Community activist Igmar Roda told New Santa Ana two officers who work the ever expanding homeless encampment next to the courthouse were confiscating Swihart's property when the struggle ensued.

As he was being held on the ground by the cops, Swihart yelled, "I can't breathe, I'm dying."

Roda says Swihart "tried to reach for the officer’s gun. The cops backed off and fired two shots at him.”

Scott Thomas, a criminal defense attorney who was in the same area where the fight broke out and started recording it with his cell phone, had a hard time with the notion Swihart reached for a gun.

"I heard one of the officers yell 'he's got a gun! He's got a gun,' then immediately I heard two shots," Thomas told the Weekly at the time.

Here is his footage again:

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"From my perspective as a criminal defense attorney," Thomas said, "it was odd that a) a restrained man was able to reach for a firearm in such a manner that it posed a threat to officers; and b) that the officer had his gun drawn (I'm assuming) prior to the observation of the subject (allegedly) possessing a firearm (I'm basing this on how quickly the shots rang out after I heard the officers call out "he's got a gun,"); and the fact that I didn't observe a gun or anything resembling a gun near the subject, nor did I observe the officers sweeping anything away from the subject."

Swihart took at least two rounds to his upper torso. He was taken to Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, where he had been listed in critical condition. That's where he also died on Aug. 14, the Santa Ana Police Department revealed last week.

Corporal Anthony Bertagna, the department's spokesman, has said the officers feared for their safety before the shots were fired.

As it does with most officer-involved shootings in Orange County, the district attorney's office is investigating.

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