Richard Gene Swihart, a Filipino homeless man, rode his bike on a handicap ramp by Santa Ana’s Plaza of the Flags last summer when approached by police. Officers David Enriquez and Matthew Chitjian wanted to cite Swihart for the violation. “I need to talk to you about your riding your bike in the Civic Center,” Enriquez told Swihart. “We’re just going to give you a citation for riding your bike.” All Swihart cared to know is why the cops gave him a hard time. Police moved to cuff him after failing to comply with their commands. A struggle ensued leading to Swihart being shot by Chitjian and dying from his injuries two weeks later.
A report released yesterday by Orange County District Attorney’s office offers new details into the Aug. 1, 2016 incident while clearing Chitjian of any criminal wrongdoing. During the struggle to subdue and arrest Swihart, Enriquez told investigators that he felt a tug on his gun holster and saw Swihart trying to gain control of the weapon. Fearing for his life and others around the Civic Center, the cop yelled out, “He’s going for my gun!” Chitjian responded by firing two bullets into Swihart’s torso. The homeless man’s grip on the still-holstered gun slacked and the two officers finally detained him.
That’s when Scott Thomas, a criminal defense attorney, happened on the scene and began filming on his cellphone. In the footage obtained by the Weekly a year ago, Swihart can be heard saying “I can’t breath,” while yelling for help. A crowd began forming around the scene before additional law enforcement came to the aid of the officers. An ambulance transferred Swihart to Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana where he died from gun shot wounds on Aug. 14.
But Thomas’ footage isn’t the only one out there of the incident that unfolded in less than two minutes. The OCDA notes numerous cameras affixed to government buildings captured the shooting. And while Chitjian declined to speak with investigators, the report quotes witnesses corroborating Enriquez’s account. “The officers had no choice, they are fighting for their lives,” one witness said. While investigators wanted to talk to Chitjian about the shooting, they believe a jury would conclude he heard his partner’s cry for help and acted accordingly.
“Officer Chitjian’s decision to decline to give the OCDA a voluntary statement may not legally and ethically be used to draw negative evidentiary inferences regarding the conduct and the state of mind of Officer Chitjian,” the report reads. “It is clear from the evidence in this case that Officer Chitjian did not commit a crime, and that he was justified when he shot Swihart and carried out his duties as a peace officer in a reasonable and justifiable manner.”
As always, the report can be read in its entirety online.