It’s clearance time over at the Orange County District Attorney’s office. In the waning days of Tony Rackauckas’ tenure as district attorney, his agency has released investigation letters relating to five in-custody deaths and three officer-involved shootings in just the last week alone. The latest in the deluge comes courtesy of the Aug. 23, 2016 non-fatal shooting of Alan Osvaldo Reza by Anaheim policeman Jason Smith.
According to the OCDA, officers got a 911 call that day about a reported assault suffered by a woman and her boyfriend in the Glen-Neighbors barrio at the hand of a trio of gang members armed with a gun, knife and spiked bat. When police arrived, the victims recounted being hit up by the notorious Folks gang. After claiming no gang affiliation, the couple got physically assaulted by two cholos and a chola.
Police showed the victims a lineup photo of possible suspects when they identified Reza as the man who brandished a gun during the assault. Anaheim PD knew him to be a documented gang member and suspected his involvement in a rival gang shooting just days prior. The police department’s crime task force set up surveillance outside the barrio that the gang claims. Around 10:30 p.m., an officer observed Reza getting into a Honda. Smith trailed behind in his marked patrol car and tried to pull the Honda over on a main street while flashing his high beams. A slow speed pursuit of sorts ensued until Smith executed a PIT maneuver, striking the rear of the Honda.
Reza got out of the car and began running through a strip mall near the neighborhood. Smith gave chase on foot along with three other cops. The OCDA report claims Reza kept a hand close to his waistband during his awkward strides. Smith ordered him to drop whatever he held in his hands, but the command went ignored. The cop told investigators that as Reza turned towards him, he saw a barrel of a gun come up. “Gun, gun, gun!” another cop yelled. Smith fired once, striking Reza down to the ground while an object flew into the air.
Police recovered a pistol from the scene. Paramedics transported Reza to UC Irvine Medical Center where he survived the sole gunshot wound, though the report fails to detail where he sustained the injury.
Without any witnesses to the shooting, Smith’s body-worn camera footage became a key piece of evidence. In the past, the OCDA released such video in other cases during a press conference. This time around, a YouTube link was provided in the online report instead. The footage is unsteady with Smith running and there’s no audio. It follows two minutes worth of aerial surveillance from a police helicopter.
The disclosure of video evidence comes after a jury convicted Reza of multiple charges earlier this month including battery, assault with a deadly weapon and kidnapping during an attempted carjacking. With the criminal case resolved, the OCDA set about completing its investigation and clearing Smith of any wrongdoing.
“Officer Smith justifiably and reasonably believed Reza was trying to kill him and immediately fired,” the report concludes. “A jury analyzing these facts would justly conclude it was reasonable for Officer Smith to believe his life, and the lives of his fellow officers were in danger.”
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!