It’s already been a week since footage of a young man being shot to death by Huntington Beach policeman outside a 7-Eleven went viral and made international headlines. Since then, the Orange County coroner’s office confirmed on Monday what the Weekly knew since Saturday; that Dillan Tabares, 27, was the person killed in the shooting. But who’s the officer that backed up, drew his weapon and opened fire?
The Weekly asked the city for the cop’s name in a California Public Records Act request the day of the shooting. On Wednesday, Huntington Beach police Lt. Tim Martin responded. “The City has carefully reviewed and considered this request,” Martin wrote in an email addressed to “Mr. San Raman” (hey, that’s a new one!). “The City has also reviewed recent statements by members of the community on social media sites, some of which contain retaliatory threats to the officer’s life and safety.” With that, the city attorney’s office declined to provide the requested name.
Cities generally disclose names of officers involved in shootings upon request following a state Supreme Court ruling in 2014 and the Weekly regularly obtains them from departments in Anaheim and Santa Ana, and beyond. The Long Beach Police Officers Association lost its court battle to keep police identities anonymous back then when Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Winton first requested the names of cops who shot and killed Douglas Zerby in 2010 prompting the challenge; he also asked for the names of Long Beach officers involved in shootings spanning the previous five years.
The state Supreme Court ruled in a majority opinion that names can only be withheld from the public when such information compromises an officer’s duties (think undercover work) or safety. But the threats must be specific and credible to outweigh the public’s right to transparency. The Tabares shooting definitely sparked heated debates online, but no angry street protests despite how much local news channels desperately tried to hype up discussions between people with opposing viewpoints at the memorial site for their cameras.
“The concerning threats are currently being actively investigated and therefore I am not able to share that information,” Lt. Martin added when asked about the specifics. “The Orange County Sheriff’s Department [is] the primary agency conducting this investigation and we are not permitted to share any details of the investigation without their approval.”
Tabares, a former Navy veteran who fell on hard times, battled mental illness and drug addiction prior to being fatally shot. The Associated Press learned that he also served about 18 months in state prison for felony battery before being released on parole Sept. 14, just eight days before the fatal encounter with Huntington Beach police. In three separate video clips of the incident, the officer can be seen using his Taser against an aggressively approaching Tabares.
When it failed to stop his advance, Tabares threw a punch at the cop who wrestled him to the ground and landed a couple punches in the scuffle. Tabares then grabbed an unknown object from the officer’s utility belt and stood up when the officer backed away a few feet. Without issuing any commands, the cop opened fire, fatally wounding Tabares.
The identity of the officer isn’t the only open question about the incident despite what the viral videos show. What prompted the policeman to approach Tabares in the first place is also unknown.