Two Santa Ana cops declined to speak with Orange County district attorney investigators about their fatal July 8, 2018 shooting of Ngoc Dang Nguyen, but don’t have to worry about prosecution. The OCDA declined to press charges against officers Connor Ahearn and Steven Lopez, citing “lack of sufficient evidence” in a recently released report into the incident that left the 28-year-old burglary suspect dead.
On the night in question, Ahearn and Lopez patrolled an area of the city claimed by the Santa Nita street gang. That’s when officers caught glimpse of a red Toyota Camry leaving a residential neighborhood. Nguyen drove the car erratically, revving up to speeds of 70 miles per hour. Police gave chase after he failed to yield.
The pursuit sped through the intersection of Euclid and First Street when Ahearn radioed that Nguyen pitched a handgun from the car–a weapon authorities weren’t able to recover from the scene afterward. Taking a turn for the dangerous in Westminster, Nguyen drove into oncoming traffic and collided with another Camry, injuring its two elderly passengers.
As shown on body-worn cameras released by the OCDA, officers ordered Nguyen to stay seated in his car. But the passenger door swung open and he climbed out. The report notes police observed that Nguyen appeared to be holding a semi-automatic handgun in his right hand as he began to flee on foot. That chase didn’t last long as Ahearn and Lopez gunned him down, noting a “417” afterward which is police talk for a person with a gun.
With an extensive criminal record, Nguyen was on parole at the time of the officer-involved shooting and had a warrant out for his arrest.
In assessing the question of criminal charges for officers, the OCDA cited Brown v. Ransweiler, a 2009 case, where California’s Supreme Court ruled that “an officer may reasonably use deadly force when he or she confronts an armed suspect in close proximity whose actions indicate an intent to attack.”
Investigators would’ve preferred talking to the officers involved in the shooting, but the report states that no negative conclusions could be legally or ethically drawn from them having declined to provide voluntary statements. With the facts at hand, they had no case.
“The OCDA will not be able to disprove that officer Ahearn and Lopez did not rightfully believe that Nguyen was armed and a danger to the public,” the report concludes. “After Nguyen exited his vehicle, the officers observed him running with a firearm in his hand toward an area covered with trees and bushes. This area would have made it difficult for the officers to see Nguyen and would have also provided Nguyen with a place of concealment giving him a tactical advantage over the officers if he had decided to use the gun he was holding against them.”
With that, the OCDA found much evidence to support the conclusion that the officers rightfully feared for their lives and closed its inquiry into the incident.
As always, read the report in its entirety online.