Two weeks after a fatal officer-involved shooting in Anaheim resulted in the death of Martin Angel Hernandez, the surrounding community once again came out in sizable numbers to express frustration. The setting this time was the Ponderosa Elementary School Library where the Anaheim Police Department together with the Orange County Human Relations Commission put out an invitation to hear a series of officer presentations in response to "concerns and to address the rumors" as it was put.
Family members of Hernandez were seated in the front row, people with protest signs lined the back of the room and the library was well filled over its stated capacity of 65 persons.
After a brief introduction by OCHRC's James Armendaris, Chief John Welter began to address those gathered. He offered a version by way of the Orange County District Attorney office's preliminary investigation into the circumstances of the night in question with information previously not made public. A call into the police department on the night of March 6 was referenced reiterating that five or six males were in the alley outside a white vehicle. A dispatch of two officers followed with a third volunteering.
"The officer that approached first came into the alley on foot and he saw two subjects, one on a bicycle, and the other on foot," Chief Welter said. "The bicyclist was riding the bike, the man on foot was running alongside carrying a shotgun. Both were headed westbound down the alley toward the officer. As the one on the bicycle passed, the one with the shotgun was still headed toward the officer." It wasn't at that point that shots were fired though, Welter says; commands instead were given.
"The man turned and ran the opposite direction," he followed referring to Hernandez. "The subject at some point in the alley turned back around west bound and it was at that time that the officer fired three rounds hitting the subject one time." Chief Welter stated that shots were fired from the distance and that a shotgun was recovered close to the body. He did not say at any time during the meeting, nor has the department in the lead up to it, that the weapon was pointed at any officer at any time.
After other police presentations finished, people lined up to address law enforcement officials directly. Marla Ochoa-Perez, mother to Hernandez's two-year old son, went first. "Was it necessary for the police officer to shoot in the head knowing that there was possibly going to be risk of killing this person?" she demanded.
"The investigation from the District Attorney's office will determine where he exactly he was shot," Chief Welter responded, in part. "In the head!" numerous people angrily interjected from the audience, a point not offered up at first, but confirmed soon after. The tension remained palpable throughout. When the shooting was referenced at another time, people decried that Hernandez was fleeing and then surrendered.
Questions also surfaced about mounted cameras positioned on the alley, their whereabouts and what they show. "As far as the cameras go, the District Attorney, most likely, has those," Welter said. "I'll be very interested to know what the cameras revealed." Based on the preliminary investigation, he disputed claims that an assassination or an execution took place. The Police Chief also later readily admitted that he didn't know all the facts of what happened on the scene and was limited as to what he could say at this particular time as the DA is the lead office looking into the incident.
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The frustration reached a crescendo when those in line turned their backs saying that they weren't being listened to and began to file out to chants of "What do we want? Justice!" They turned the corner of the room heading for the exit before eventually deciding on staying as a majority of speakers walked up to the mic to express their experiences of police harassment, profiling, and other grievances.
The meeting was originally scheduled to last only a hour-and-a-half, but the last person summed up his comments well after the last Disneyland fireworks could be heard. Three hours later, part of the purported objective of the meeting, finding common collaborative ground between the police and the community, was frayed at best. Fear and distrust, too predominate. Repeated references of the District Attorney's office's formal investigation being the final word left few reassured.
After all, during Tony Rackauckas' 13-year tenure, as the Weekly's line goes, charges in an officer-involved shooting have been pursued only once by the DA's office despite ample opportunity.