In defeating Orange County district attorney Tony Rackauckas last November, Todd Spitzer begins his tenure by carrying on his predecessor’s legacy–at least where it concerns investigations of officer-involved deaths. Towards the end of his 20 years as DA, Rackauckas introduced a new disclosure policy where body-worn camera footage and other videos would be released, when possible, at the end of an officer-involved shooting or in-custody death probe. Spitzer continues that policy with the death of Terrall Magee following a rough arrest by Santa Ana policemen a year ago.
The OCDA’s office made body camera footage public this week after clearing police of any wrongdoing in an officer-involved death–another hallmark of T-Rack’s tenure, save for the Kelly Thomas exception.
According to a report delivered yesterday to Santa Ana police chief David Valentin, Magee broke into a business on First Street on the night of March 11, 2018. In doing so, he set off a security alarm, prompting a call to police about a commercial burglary in progress. Officer Manuel Pardo (the report doesn’t give full names for cops) responded to the scene and saw Magee running barefoot into a liquor store. A customer grabbed and forced him to his knees while Pardo caught up.
From there, Pardo tried to cuff Magee, who resisted and tried to bite the cop. When that didn’t work, the robbery suspect attempted a head butt but struck his face on the pavement outside the liquor store, instead. But both the attempted bite and the headbutt aren’t on body camera footage released by the DA; Pardo’s device is said to have fallen off during the struggle.
Officer Michael Griffith did turn on his body camera when arriving on scene. He exited his patrol car with baton in hand and immediately delivered hard blows to Magee right thigh. “They’re going to hurt you, bro,” a nearby witness told Magee. “Stop!” Griffith followed the baton blows with two punches to the back of his head. Pardo drove his knee twice into Magee’s stomach before delivering four punches to the lower back.
An autopsy report by Dr. Aruna Singhania detailed the following injuries Magee suffered: small abrasions on the front scalp, another abrasion above the right eye and two contusions on each cheekbone. She concluded the cause of death to be sudden cardiac arrest with an enlarged heart that happened during the struggle with law enforcement while under the influence of meth. In short, it was ruled a homicide, a point OCDA investigators felt compelled to follow up on only to have Dr. Singhania reaffirm her determination.
The OCDA had to assess if officers acted lawfully or criminally in the arrest-turned-homicide. They ruled out any implied malice in nixing murder off the list. Next came voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. But the OCDA found no evidence of foul play there, either, and closed its inquiry into the case.
“The SAPD took active steps to attempt to meet Magee’s medical needs while he was in custody,” the report concludes. “SAPD personnel did not do anything, intentionally or negligently, to exacerbate or bring about Magee’s death. The evidence shows that Terrall Magee died as a result of a cardiac arrest related to his drug use during the struggle with SAPD Officers.
As always, read the report in its entirety online.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!