Surprise! OCDA Clears Anaheim Cop in Fatal Shooting of Unarmed Man

On the night of February 8, Anaheim police responded to call about a man turning door knobs in the neighborhood by Sage Park. Officers Robert Benavides and German Alvarez arrived on scene just after midnight but a half-hour later their search turned up nothing. Alvarez decided to take a look around Sage Park by himself when he happened upon Gustavo Najera. A report by the Orange County District Attorney's (OCDA) office released this week details what happened next that left Najera, an unarmed 22-year-old, dead with a gunshot wound to the head.

When Najera came into contact with Alvarez at the park, the 22-year-old flashed a light in the direction of the cop's patrol car. Alvarez noticed that the young man kept his right arm and hand concealed from sight. (Quick aside: according to family, Najera had recently broken his left arm and wore a cast up to the elbow, meaning he would have been holding the flash light with that hand.) 

Alvarez continued to drive towards Najera and tried to flash his patrol car's light on him. Najera kept his flash light squarely shining in the officer's direction. Alvarez rolled down his window and came to a stop within shouting distance. “You gotta go!” the cop ordered. “Why?” Najera asked. “Park's closed!” Najera paid Alvarez no mind, continuing to walk towards him with flashlight in hand and still concealing his other hand. 

When Najera came within six feet, Alvarez said he met his “1,000-foot stare,” one that he took as threatening. “I hate cops!” Najera shouted. The cop feared for his life and readied his gun. Alvarez turned on his body-worn camera just seconds before firing a single, fatal shot at Najera's head, but footage reviewed by the OCDA doesn't show the movements before that prompted the gunfire. The cop filled in the details, telling investigators that Najera brought his right hand forward in an apparent threat to kill.

Alvarez's patrol car appeared to “shake violently” on camera when pelted with a handful of sand. When he cleared his eyes, Alvarez saw Najera bleeding on the ground from his gunshot. Paramedics arrived at Sage Park and took the young man to UCI Medical Center, where he died shortly after. 
The Najera shooting prompted an angry protest outside the Anaheim Police Department headquarters in the days following the incident. His parents, Alejandro Najera and Maria Pliego, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city just last month. The complaint noted Alvarez had “prior instances of excessive force,” including a time when he allegedly drew his firearm in a reckless manner. The parents took action after getting little information from authorities about the shooting that took their son's life.

The OCDA report provides more details, describing Najera as a “substance abuser with erratic and violent tendencies,” but admitted no weapon had been found on him, a fact that didn't change the OCDA's decision not to pursue charges. “Based on Najera's demeanor, conduct and threatening manner in which he approached Officer Alvarez, Najera appeared to be a real and apparent threat to Officer Alvarez, which reasonably justified the use of force in self-defense,” the OCDA concludes. 

As always, read the investigative letter in its entirety online. And after that, listen to Anaheim hip-hop group Weapons of Mass Creation's “Rest in Paint,” a new tribute song to Najera. 

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