UPDATE, AUG. 3, 12:34 P.M.: Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna on Tuesday did identify and update the condition of the homeless man who was shot Monday morning. He is 32-year-old transient Richard Gene Swihart, who was listed in critical condition at Orange County Global Hospital.
Community activist Igmar Roda says two police officers who work the homeless encampment area next to the courthouse were confiscating Swihart's property when a struggle ensued. “Cops tried to bring him down and guy tried to reach for the officer’s gun,” Roda reportedly told New Santa Ana. “The cops backed off and fired two shots at him.” Bertagna says officers feared for their safety before the shots were fired.
ORIGINAL POST, AUG. 1, 5:20 P.M.: A criminal defense attorney who was on his way into court says he witnessed Monday morning's police shooting of a 32-year-old man and that, “It did not appear the homeless man was armed and no weapon was swept away following the shooting.”
Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna says two officers struggled with the man before the 9:30 a.m. shooting near Avenue of the Stars, where the incident closed a courthouse entrance for hours. It also sent the man to the hospital for surgery as he was hit in the upper torso by gunfire. Originally misidentified as being in his 20s, the man has not been named nor has his condition at the hospital been released.
“It was bizarre,” witness Scott Thomas tells the Weekly. “As I was approaching the officers I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that this encounter wasn't going to play out well. I decided against filming the officers because nothing was really happening, but my instincts were telling me otherwise. Unfortunately, my gut feeling was dead on.”
Here is what Thomas filmed on his cell phone right after the shooting; at one point you hear the man being held down cry out, “I can't breathe, I'm dying:”
“I heard one of the officers yell 'he's got a gun! He's got a gun,' then immediately I heard two shots,” Thomas recalls. “From my perspective as a criminal defense attorney, 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.”
Another witness who resides in the homeless encampment near the courthouse told the Orange County Register that the man who was “quiet,” frequented the area and was shirtless on a bicycle before the shooting.
“I heard the shots and then I heard a man say ‘Help! Help Help!’” Gonzales reportedly said.
The camp resident noted the homeless population has been growing in the Civic Center area due rising rents and a reduced prison population.
“There’s a lot more people here than there usually is,” Gonzales reportedly said, “and it’s not good,”