Santa came early again for Anaheim police officer Kelly Phillips in the form of OC District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, as Tony Rack cleared the veteran cop in yet another officer-involved shooting.
Phillips, you may recall, was cleared of any wrongdoing earlier this year in the fatal shooting of 21-year-old Joel Acevedo the night after Manuel Diaz. And now, during Christmas week, the OC DA has cleared Phillips in the shooting of Gerardo Pineda, who was one of only two people to survive an Anaheim officer-involved shooting in 2012.
Back in February, an APD Gang Unit team comprised of Phillips, Sergeant Richard Castro, Investigators Mike Brown and Jonathan Yepes was dispatched to an apartment complex on West Northgate Lane in search of a 1996 Honda Accord reported stolen earlier that day by Riverside County authorities.
Arriving to the scene in an unmarked vehicle, they happened on the 19-year-old Pineda, standing about 10 feet away from a Honda, and recognizing him by his cholo name, "Ghost." The gang unit initially lost sight of him and the car turned out to not be the stolen vehicle in question, though it was later found in the apartment complex.
When they happened on Pineda again, the gang unit yelled "Police!" while exiting the van. He booked it as officers gave chase. Phillips, armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, claimed Pineda pulled a black object from his waistband area and later turned around before scaling a wall, avoiding the first shot Phillips took.
Saying he feared for his life, Phillips fired and missed again when he saw Pineda standing in the shrubbery of the unlit backyard. When the teenager stepped away from a tree he took cover from, Phillips shot twice more striking Pineda once in the stomach. Brown and Castro came to cuff him finding no gun, only a black cellphone.
Since Pineda survived, he was able to give his version of events. Without hearing any commands, he thought the cops were rival gang members rolling up on him. At one point, near Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church, someone told him to drop the gun to which he replied that he didn't have one. After being struck Pineda said in an interview with Fox News Latino while out on bail that, "I told them, 'Hey, I got shot. You hit me. I'm dying.'"
The OCDA's investigation found no criminal culpability on the part of Phillips. The agency's 8-page report comes a year after Pineda pleaded guilty to unlawful taking of a vehicle, street terrorism and two criminal enhancements. He was sentenced to two years in prison.
None of the recorded neighborhood canvassing interviews were quoted nor were the prior incidents involving Phillips listed.
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In addition to Acevedo, he was also one of five officers-involved in the December 11, 2009 killing of 35-year-old Caesar Cruz outside a Wal-Mart in Anaheim Plaza.
The investigative letter can be read in its entirety online.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz