Relatives of Steve Salgado and anti-police brutality activists hit the streets of Santa Ana in protest following the young man's death at the hands of police last month. Gang Suppression Unit detectives patrolled Birch Street on the afternoon of January 29 when they encountered Salgado. The 18-year-old exited from the passenger side of a car, leading police on a foot pursuit when an officer-involved shooting happened shortly after. Details don't stretch far beyond that for now. "We know that Steve was coming back from a kids soccer game," says attorney Christian Pereira. "It was a very short chase from an alleyway through an apartment complex. That's pretty much all we know."
Pereira is representing Salgado's two children, a two-year-old and an unborn baby on the way, in the case along with the Tustin-based Carrazco Law firm. "From people that were present at the scene, they say Salgado had no weapon," the attorney adds. "But I can't confirm that to be true or untrue because I haven't spoken with every single witness out there and I don't know what information Santa Ana police have."
The Weekly asked the department spokesman if Salgado was unarmed, but he deferred to the Orange County District Attorney's (OCDA) office.
A claim will be filed, a prelude to a wrongful death lawsuit if rejected. (Santa Ana settled two such cases for police shootings last year for $6.8 million). Pereira expects to find out more about the Salgado case in the interim. "Some witnesses have also said that Salgado was shot in the back," he adds. "We'll know from the autopsy if that's true." Since demonstrations took place earlier this month, the Weekly has learned that David Prewett is the cop being investigated by the OCDA office in the shooting—and it isn't the first fatal incident he's been involved in.
According to a 2012 OCDA report, Elmer Perez got into an argument with his girlfriend Diana Alvarado in the early morning hours of December 16, 2010. His stepdad called a Santa Ana police dispatcher around 5 a.m. saying his 27-year-old stepson had a toy gun and argued with his pregnant girlfriend while being on drugs. By 5:30 a.m., Prewett, Corporal Manny Moreno, officers Brandon Sontag (trying to get his job back after getting fired last year for his roll in the infamous Sky High dispensary raid, someone who has cost SanTana $2.55 million in excessive force lawsuits, and participant in four officer-involved shootings, including one where he got a dog) and Tony Lee arrived on scene at the family's condominium.
But when police talked to Perez's stepdad, the story changed. Prewett told dispatch that the stepdad didn't know whether the gun was real or a toy. The situation only escalated from there, with Perez upstairs, not allowing his girlfriend or two-year-old son to leave. The officers decided to enter the condo and took positions along the staircase with guns drawn. They yelled commands at Perez to drop his gun, but he didn't comply. When Perez raised his hand and pointed the gun at them, officers opened fire.
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After the smoke cleared, the gun turned out to be a replica. All of the officers involved in the shooting, including Prewett, declined to give voluntary statements to OCDA investigators. They found that police acted within policy anyway based on the recounting of another officer on scene who didn't fire on Perez. The Sayre & Levitt firm filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit that year against the department on behalf of Perez's two children. "Elmer Alexander Perez posed no threat, was cooperative with officers and had committed no crime," the suit claimed.
In depositions, a more disputed version of events is presented than in the OCDA report. The stepdad testified that he told Cpl. Moreno in Spanish that "of course it's a toy." Cpl. Moreno countered saying he asked him a number of questions including if he had seen it or ever owned a real gun. The man finally admitted his wife is the one who saw it and relayed the info to him. What was undisputed is that Perez's sister told police it was just a toy gun on her way out of the condo. When officers later opened fire, Prewett stated in a deposition that he fired 10 times.
A federal jury in 2014 cleared the cops against all claims.
The Perez case is certain to come across Pereira's desk as he works on the Salgado shooting. The attorney plans to pull all relevant personnel records to scrutinize them and see if there's any pattern of excessive force at play. "That information becomes very relevant," he says, "if it shows that there's someone out there that's not following the constitution."