Off-duty officer's fight with teens sets off protests
ANAHEIM, Calif. — An off-duty California officer who didn't want teens walking across his lawn fired his gun during a struggle with a 13-year-old boy and other youths, igniting unruly protests after video of the fight surfaced and two boys were arrested.
No one was hurt during the struggle, but hundreds of people marched through suburban Anaheim streets late Wednesday, some blocking traffic and carrying signs that said "no shooting zone." Police arrested two dozen people, including children, after the crowd ignored orders to disperse.
The fight Tuesday between the off-duty Los Angeles police officer and the group of kids stemmed from ongoing issues with teens walking across the man's property in Anaheim, a police statement said.
The 13-year-old believed the officer, who was not named, had cursed at a teenage girl who had walked across his lawn in the area of single-family homes, many with tidy flower beds and well-pruned trees, about 2 miles west of Disneyland, the Orange County Register reported.
"The little kid said, 'I'm going to sue you,' and then the guy thought he said, 'I'm going to shoot you.' That's when he started grabbing the little kid," Gregory Perez, 16, part of a larger group of young people walking in the area, told the newspaper.
A video posted on YouTube showed the officer struggling with the boy, who repeatedly denied he threatened to open fire. At one point, the teen said, "Let me go. ... I'm only 13."
Another youth rushed the officer, who stumbled back through a low hedge, still holding the 13-year-old.
A teen then took a swing at the officer. Other kids approached, and the man — still gripping the 13-year-old with one hand — pulled a gun from his waistband, crouched and fired a shot.
Witnesses said the officer "did not discharge the gun toward anyone," Anaheim police Sgt. Daron Wyatt told radio station KNX-AM.
After police arrived, the off-duty officer put his hands up and was led away to be interviewed.
The 13-year-old was eventually handcuffed and booked on suspicion of making a criminal threat and battery, A 15-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of assault and battery and later released, police said.
The American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement that the video was deeply disturbing and called on investigators to explain why the boys were arrested but the officer who fired the shot was not.
Neighbor Joe Gulrich, 76, said his house was spray-painted during the protest and police told him he should leave for his own safety. When he returned late at night, he found a rock had been thrown through his front window.
Gulrich said he's friendly with the officer and wouldn't blame him if he did fire the shot intentionally.
"He did the right thing," Gulrich said. "If he hadn't done that they would have ganged up on him."
Gulrich blamed a recently built skate park for some of the trouble involving teens but said the problems date back further in the neighborhood between a junior high and high school.
Mike Gutierrez, 35, said he was concerned by the officer's handling of the incident.
"What kind of officer goes against a child?" asked Gutierrez, who lives a few blocks away.
Police in Anaheim and Los Angeles were investigating, and the officer was cooperating, Wyatt said. He has been placed on administrative leave.
The city of about 350,000 people south of Los Angeles was roiled in 2012 by demonstrations following the fatal police shootings of two unarmed Latino men. The deaths sparked four days of violent protests resulting in smashed shop windows and dozens of arrests.
The protests Wednesday started calmly but some demonstrators blocked traffic, vandalized the officer's home and hurled objects at police.
Officials said 24 people were arrested — 10 men, eight women, three boys and three girls. All could face misdemeanor charges for failure to disperse, resisting arrest and battery on a peace officer.