[UPDATED:] In-Custody Death and Police Killing of Andres Ramirez Put DA's New Disclosure Policy to the Test

Update, December 14, 11:48 a.m.:

The disclosure policy has changed, but the results have not. As with just about every (if not every) police shooting case brought before it, the Orange County District Attorney's Office has officially cleared Laguna Beach cops of criminal wrongdoing in the death of

Colby Koenig

, whose case is detailed later in this post.

Original Post, December 13, 4:24 p.m.: Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas on Thursday announced a new policy for releasing to police agencies more details about his office's state-mandated investigations into officer-involved shootings and deaths of people in custody. By the next night, he had a new police killing of a man to put to the test and, this morning, another in a spate of recent in-custody deaths.

Santa Ana police say a call came in about gang members loitering in an alley in the 1100 block of Poplar Street Friday night. At about 9:40 p.m., two officers were involved in the shooting of Andres Ramirez, 21, of North Carolina. He died about 12:14 a.m. Saturday.

A 48-year-old, yet-to-be-identified man held in the Men's Central Jail medical ward in Santa Ana was found unresponsive by Orange County sheriff's deputies at 3:15 a.m. today. Officers performed CPR but were unable to resuscitate him, according to the OCSD.

That's it as far as details for public consumption, but to be fair these incidents did just happen.

By the way, the new Rackauckas policy came at the request of Anaheim Police Chief John Welter. The first case getting the expanded treatment is the death of Colby Koenig, 25, of Foothill Ranch. He was gunned down by officers in Laguna Beach after police say he drove his 2006 Mitsubishi Evolution 100 miles per hour on the wrong side of Coast Highway before crashing into five cars at the St. Ann's Drive intersection. His family filed suit against the city.

For more immediate information about police shootings and in-custody deaths, the media is generally forced to rely on eyewitnesses and peeved family members, as is the case across the county line in Long Beach, where 35-year-old LBC native Douglas Zerby was shot and killed in Belmont Shore by police around 5 p.m. Sunday.

Police there claim officers were responding to a call of a man with a six-shooter gun in the 5300 block of East Ocean Boulevard. Officers discovered a man who seemed to be intoxicated holding a weapon, and when he pointed it in the direction of two officers, they opened fire, police say.

It turned out Zerby was on his friend's porch holding a garden hose nozzle. As the Long Beach Press-Telegram reports, Zerby's devastated family claims the cops did not follow proper police procedures, that they should have first verbally ordered the man to drop his nozzle before resorting to blowing him away. Witnesses tell the paper Zerby was known to be a heavy drinker, but he was never known to be violent.

His family honors him at a candlelight vigil at 5:30 this evening at Ocean and Glendora Avenue. Anyone can attend.

Last week's OCDA statement on the new disclosure policy (which obviously doesn't cover Long Beach) follows on the next page . . .

December 9, 2010


SANTA ANA - Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) Tony Rackauckas made the following statement today:

Starting today, I am changing the Office's policy and procedure by publicly providing the factual findings and legal conclusion after conducting our officer-involved shooting and custodial death investigations.

Our decision to change our policy began when Chief John Welter of the Anaheim Police Department came to me requesting the OCDA include factual findings and more information in our letter to police departments concluding the Office's investigation of officer-involved shooting and custodial death cases. With the buy-in from all police chiefs and the Orange County Sheriff, we have been working together to come up with a protocol which balances the public's right to know the facts behind the discharge of police officers' weapons, facts behind deaths of persons under police custody, and police officers' legal rights and safety concerns. 

The OCDA's procedure when conducting investigations and arriving at the legal conclusion will remain the same. The OCDA Bureau's Special Assignments Unit (OCDASAU) responds within minutes to the scene and investigates a majority of all officer-involved shootings and custodial deaths that occur in Orange County. OCDASAU is responsible for investigating officer-involved shootings within Orange County when someone has been killed or injured by police gunfire and when someone dies under police custody.

An OCDASAU Investigator is assigned as case agent and supported by other Investigators from the Unit and other units.  There are six full-time Investigators assigned to OCDASAU. There are 25 additional OCDA Investigators assigned to other units trained to assist when needed.  On average, eight investigators respond to the incident within an hour of being called and perform a variety of investigative functions including interviewing witnesses, canvassing neighborhoods, processing crime scenes, collecting evidence, and processing vehicles. OCDASAU audio record all interviews and physical evidence is processed by the Orange County Crime Lab.  

Following OCDASAU's conclusion of an investigation, the file is turned over to a deputy district attorney for legal review.  A veteran deputy district attorney of the Homicide or Gang Unit reviews the case for criminal filing in fatal officer-involved shootings and custodial deaths. A veteran deputy district attorney of the Special Prosecutions Unit reviews non-fatal officer-involved shooting investigations for criminal filing. Throughout this process, consultation between the reviewing prosecutor and his or her supervisor occurs, and an assistant district attorney will review their legal conclusion and the resulting memo. Often, the case may be reviewed by multiple veteran prosecutors including the senior assistant district attorneys, Chief of Staff, and me. The case may be sent back for further investigation if necessary. 

The OCDA will conduct an independent and thorough investigation of the facts and circumstances of this event and impartially review all available evidence and legal standards. The scope of this review and findings are expressly limited to a determination of whether or not any criminal conduct occurred. The OCDA will not be addressing policy, training, tactics or civil liability.

Each year, OCDASAU conducts an average of 14 custodial death and 16 officer-involved shooting investigations. These complex and time-consuming investigations require conducting numerous interviews, completing detailed reports, analyzing evidence, coordinating with involved agencies, and submitting all reports and materials for legal review. 

Previously, a short letter was sent following the completion of a factual finding and legal conclusion to the chief of the involved police department stating whether the OCDA was filing criminal charges. The letter stated the OCDA's legal finding without detailing factual findings. On occasion, the OCDA would conduct informational sessions with the media and public and provide additional facts regarding the investigation. 

As of today, evidenced by the letter involving the shooting of Colby Koenig in 2010 by officers from the Laguna Beach Police Department, the OCDA will be sending a letter to the police department detailing OCDA's investigation, methodology and overview of the procedures employed, evidence examined, witnesses interviewed, factual findings, legal analysis, and legal conclusion determining whether there was criminal culpability by the officer involved in the shooting. The letter titled "OCDA OIS Report (LBPD 01-12-2010)" is available at www.orangecountyda.com.

If the OCDA had filed a criminal filing against anyone involved in the incident, the factual findings will not be made public until the end of the trial and/or sentencing.

I hope this new format will foster greater accountability and transparency in law enforcement and develop greater public confidence and understanding in the integrity of the process.


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