On Feb. 5, a controversial three-year, $25.6 million police union contract commanded attention during Santa Ana city council. Before council members approved the contract without appropriating needed funds for it, they also quietly voted on a $1.7 million settlement to dismiss a lawsuit regarding the fatal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Steve Salgado in 2017 by Santa Ana policeman David Prewett during closed session.
The incident sparked angry street protests in the immediate aftermath two years ago, but few took notice of the sizable settlement at the meeting earlier this month. Santa Ana city attorney Sonia Carvalho disclosed the amount while giving a brief closed session report back to council. She noted that five councilmen voted in favor of the settlement with only councilwoman Cecilia Iglesias dissenting.
Back on Jan. 29, 2017, Santa Ana Gang Suppression Unit detectives patrolled a neighborhood claimed by the Walnut Street gang when they happened upon Salgado getting out of the passenger side of a car stopped at an alleyway. The young man continued walking in a direction away from the police when Prewett gave chase.
Detective Tyler Salo radioed a warning to officers that Salgado may be armed with a gun based on his observations. Prewett commanded Salgado to drop his gun during the foot pursuit. He looked over his shoulder towards Prewett instead and that’s when the policeman fired his weapon three times. A search recovered no gun on Salgado; only a meth pipe and two broken cellphones. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
“It was a tragic, unjustified shooting,” says Kent Henderson, one of the attorneys representing Salgado family members. “There really was no reason for it.” The suit alleged that Prewett shot Salgado in the back three times and that officers at the scene delayed medical care to him afterward.
The Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) saw no foul play and closed a criminal probe into the police shooting months after it happened without pressing any charges. Prewett refused to speak with investigators about the incident, leaving them with no insight into his “frame of mind” at the critical moment. No matter; the OCDA report noted that two other officers on the scene told them that they drew their weapons and prepared to use deadly force against Salgado, a documented gang member, and that proved good enough to stamp the shooting justified.
Prewett previously gunned down another Latino man in 2010 when responding to a domestic disturbance call. According to an OCDA report into the shooting, Elmer Perez had a toy replica gun and raised it when Prewett and three other Santa Ana policeman opened fire. None gave statements to OCDA investigators, but the office cleared all just the same. The shooting resulted in a federal wrongful death lawsuit where Prewett stated in depositions that he fired 10 times. A federal jury ruled in favor of the officers in 2014.
The $1.7 million settlement in the Salgado case will be awarded to several plaintiffs. At the time, the deceased young man left a child behind with another on the way. In dismissing the suit, the city admits no wrongdoing.
Hefty settlements in officer-involved shooting cases, including two in 2016 that cost $6.8 million together, prompted the previous Santa Ana city council to consider police oversight options. In 2017, that council passed a budget with $35,000 earmarked to explore whether to form such a board or not.
No such police oversight board exists in Santa Ana today.
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!