On Aug. 25, 2011, La Habra police officer Jason Sanchez arrived at the scene of a domestic dispute after 10:30 p.m., parked behind Manuel Galvan's Honda Accord, observed Galvan standing next to the vehicle's open driver's door, turned on his powerful spotlight to illuminate the suspect about 20 feet away, saw the man point a handgun at his wife and fired his police Glock 21 semi-automatic gun, striking Galvan. The suspect then pointed the weapon at Sanchez and, fearing for his life, the cop fired two more shots. Galvan dropped to the ground, but survived multiple wounds.
This picture depicts what Sanchez claims he clearly saw in Galvan's right hand:
Galvan, who was guilty of violating a restraining order filed by his separated wife, tells a different story. When Sanchez arrived, the officer exited his vehicle, immediately pulled his gun and ordered Galvan "to drop whatever you have in your hand." Confirmed by a witness, the suspect replied, "It's a cell phone," raised his arms in the shaped of a football goal post, tossed what had been in his right hand on the roof of the Honda and resumed holding both arms up when Sanchez began firing his Glock.
This picture depicts what Galvan actually held in his hand:
Sanchez wants us to believe he saw the man holding a handgun and pointing it in threatening ways, but no weapon was recovered at the scene.
What was found was the phone exactly where Galvan's account said it would be: on the roof of the car.
In the cop's version, the cell phone/handgun should have been found on the ground.
But Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) investigators probed the shooting and, as they customarily do in such cases, cleared Sanchez of wrongfully discharging his weapon. Their June 2013 report lends ham-fisted credence to the officer's observations of the handgun.
"Galvan was holding the black object in a clenched fist as if he were holding the pistol grip part of a gun, exposing the side of the gun between his thumb and pointing finger," the OCDA report claimed. "Officer Sanchez believed it was the slide of the gun due to the way Galvan had the black object canted [or tilted]."
The reality-suspending report did not explain how a cell phone could be mistaken for a handgun.
The Galvan incident wasn't the first time Sanchez's conduct raised eyebrows. Violating La Habra PD rules, he'd taken a second, secret job with the City of Commerce. In 2012, that city conducted an investigation into Sanchez and revealed he'd been "intentionally dishonest," including falsifying reports, falsifying time cards to steal unearned pay, ignoring directives from superiors and neglecting official duties. He quit after being notified he would be fired. Police lawyers fought to keep the Commerce information out of public view.
The City of La Habra apparently didn't like its chances of defeating Galvan's federal civil rights lawsuit and settled before the excessive force case can get to a jury.
Sanchez asserts that his badge gives him immunity from Galvan's lawsuit and believes the case should be thrown out by U.S. District Court Judge Jesus G. Bernal, a former high-ranking public defender in Los Angeles.
"The court cannot grant summary judgment on the grounds that the use of force by Sanchez was reasonable under the circumstances," Bernal concluded in his April 8 ruling that also declared a future jury should consider the dispute over "genuine issues of fact."
A July 1 trial is scheduled.
Years ago, Village Voice, the Weekly's New York sister paper, ran a cover story about a cop who explained he needed to shoot a black man because he was holding a weapon.
In reality, the man held this: