An Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA) investigation into the officer-involved shooting of a 56-year-old man in Orange in the summer of 2010 concluded it was not a cop who fired the kill shot but the dead man.
Orange Police Cpl. Clark Smith acted reasonably when he fired two rounds at Michael Rodriguez, who was struck in the left forearm before shooting himself in the temple, concludes an OCDA letter released Thursday.
On the morning of July 13, 2010, Rodriguez told his girlfriend he was leaving her, and he left their home with a handgun she had tried to keep away from him. She later told investigators Rodriguez was an alcoholic who took medications for chronic neck pain and that the combination changed his personality for the worse and caused him to experience hallucinations.
Orange Police received calls from the girlfriend's daughter and others that Rodriguez had a gun and was threatening to kill himself. Officers arrived to the 2500 block of North Bourbon Street around 12:30 p.m. and, according to the OCDA report, sound from the sirens caused Rodriguez to sprint north on Bortz Street. Cops told dispatchers he had a brown bag in one hand and an unknown object in the other.
Smith was the first to encounter Rodriguez, with the officer sounding his fog horn to get the distraught man's attention. Rodriguez ignored that as well as the officers commands to turn around, show his hands and get on the ground, something witnesses confirmed, according to the OCDA letter.
When Rodriguez did turn to face Smith, the officer made out that previously unknown object being held: a small derringer-type firearm. That's when the cop fired twice and called for back-up, the investigation found. Other officers arrived to see Rodriguez staggering around and pulling his gun to his temple several times before he fired the weapon and slumped to the ground.
The OCDA report states that the handgun was found next to Rodriguez's head, that the autopsy concluded he died of a single gunshot wound to the head and that the bullet removed from his brain had been fired by his own weapon.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.