Before his tenure ends, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas continues his pristine record of not pursuing charges against officers in police shooting cases. The latest inquiry to be closed comes courtesy of the Anaheim Police Department and an April 13 incident that claimed the life of Petrica Peter Muntean, 24, days later.
According to an OCDA report released this week, Anaheim police got a call that morning about a disturbance at a Carl’s Jr. down the street from the department’s headquarters. Officer Brendan Thomas later found Muntean in the parking lot and gave him simple commands to show his hands and take a seat on the curb. Covered by a blue shawl, Muntean appeared to want to sit down again but began wailing “I didn’t do nothing,” over and over again as he started walking away.
As part of its disclosure policy, the OCDA also released footage from body-worn cameras that capture key points of the encounter. “It might be Muntean so keep your distance,” Johnson can be heard telling fellow officers. Muntean became known to police the night before when his mother called 911 about her son’s hallucinations and a disturbance he caused in the street. Two officers arrived. One observed Muntean holding what he believed to be a gun underneath his chin. He ignored police commands to drop the weapon and evaded officers on foot.
The following morning, Muntean tried to do the same by walking down an alley but officers followed behind with a slow jog alongside a patrol car that provided cover. Johnson radioed that he believed Muntean had something in his hand that could be a gun. The jog became a full-blown sprint when Muntean turned the corner into an apartment complex near Anaheim High School.
Officer Heather Scaglione and Bartman Horn arrived on-scene and got ahead of Muntean. Scaglione saw him point an object to his chin; she fired four less-lethal rounds that didn’t stop his stride. Horn gave chase around a corner that proved to be a dead end. He told investigators 10 days after the incident that Muntean huddled behind the hood of a car with what he thought was “clearly a gun.” Without cover, Horn feared for his life and shot at Muntean nine times. With his gun drawn, Thomas added seven more bullets to the fusillade.
The only time Muntean is really visible in body-worn camera footage of the critical moment is when he’s already slumped on the ground, with blood staining the concrete. Officers gathered around his body but couldn’t find the gun they feared at first. When they dragged Muntean, it appeared wrapped in the blue shawl and turned out to be a BB gun.
Transported to UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, Muntean sustained two gunshot wounds with projectiles lodged in his neck and brain stem; he’d remain a permanent quadriplegic at best. Able to respond through his eyes, Muntean requested that medical staff cease all intervention. He died at the hospital on April 27.
Muntean had survived a previous police shooting in Santa Ana five years ago during a stolen vehicle pursuit, according to the OCDA report. It didn’t mention Horn had previously opened fire in an officer-involved shooting during his time with the Pasadena Police Department in 2013, since the subject of civil litigation. That incident left Paris DeShawn Holloway paralyzed but the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office ended up clearing the cop.
The OCDA similarly declined to press charges against Horn and Thomas in the fatal Muntean shooting. “Officers Horn and Thomas believed the weapon was a loaded firearm in an area with children and adults on their way to work and school,” the report concludes. “Officers Horn and Thomas did what they believed they had to do in order to keep the situation as safe as possible for all involved. The actions of the officers were reasonable under the circumstances.”
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!