Sun. May 19th, 2024

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office’s has concluded their investigation into the custodial death of 73-year-old Miguel Chavez, in an incident involving his September 13, 2022, arrest and subsequent death on September 15, 2022.

The OCDA determined that that there is no evidence of criminal culpability on the part of any SAPD officer involved in the arrest of Chavez.

On September 13, 2022, at approximately 1:45 p.m., SAPD Dispatch received a call from a citizen and the OCFA, advising of a traffic collision at the intersection of Broadway Avenue and 19th Street. Parties reported a white van was involved in the collision and was leaving the scene south on Broadway Avenue. SAPD units were dispatched to the intersection and told a white van was leaving the scene.

SAPD K-9 Officer Mark Shifflett heard the call for service as he was traveling south on Broadway Avenue near 17th Street. Officer Shifflett saw a white van traveling south on Broadway with front­ end collision damage. The driver of the van was later identified as Miguel Chavez. Officer Shifflett observed Chavez turn west from Broadway Avenue onto Civic Center Drive.

Officer Shifflett was driving a black and white marked SAPD patrol unit with overhead emergency lights. Officer Shifflett was dressed in a standard blue SAPD uniform with a body worn camera (BWC) attached at chest level. The BWC was activated at the time of the incident.

At approximately 1:49 p.m., Officer Shifflett attempted to conduct a traffic stop on Chavez by activating his emergency lights. Chavez, however, failed to stop. Officer Shifflett was joined by SAPD Officer Alex Gomez as he continued to follow Chavez west on Civic Center Drive. Chavez turned north on Flower Street and pulled to the curb at 1317 North Flower Street.

At approximately 1:51 p.m., Officer Shifflett stopped behind Chavez and gave verbal commands for him to place his vehicle in park and throw the keys out the window. Additional SAPD officers arrived on the scene, and Officer Gomez repeated the commands to Chavez in Spanish. Chavez looked back at the officers, then drove off north on Flower Street.

SAPD officers pursued Chavez throughout the city for more than ten minutes. Chavez briefly stopped several times before continuing to flee. Each time, SAPD officers ordered Chavez in English and Spanish to exit the van. Chavez did not comply.

At approximately 1:58 p.m., SAPD Dispatch received a call from a citizen stating he saw Chavez possibly armed with a “weapon” or “dark object with a barrel” in his right hand. SAPD Dispatch broadcast to units that Chavez was possibly armed.

At approximately 2:04 p.m., Chavez pulled in and parked in a marked parking stall at the CVS convenience store, located at 102 North Main Street, Santa Ana.

SAPD Officers blocked Chavez’ vehicle and began giving Chavez commands to exit and surrender. SAPD Officer Jose Rosales repeated the commands to Chavez in Spanish. Chavez moved to the passenger side of the van, opened the door, and communicated with officers through the open door. Chavez refused to comply with the officer’s instructions to exit the van.

SAPD Sergeant Michael Gonzalez was on the scene and developed a tactical plan to approach and apprehend Chavez. Sgt. Gonzalez assembled an arrest team and positioned less lethal options, which included a police K-9 and two 40mm less-lethal launchers. SAPD officers continued to negotiate with Chavez, but he refused to exit the van.

At approximately 2:11 p.m., Sgt. Gonzalez ordered SAPD Officer Jonathan Chavez to fire one round from his 40mm less lethal launcher at Chavez. Officer Chavez aimed for Chavez’ lower abdomen and then fired one round. The round hit Chavez in the abdomen, however, he remained in the van and shut the passenger door.

Officer Rosales negotiated with Chavez for an additional ten minutes. Chavez briefly opened the passenger door to communicate with Officer Rosales. Officer Rosales continued giving Chavez orders to surrender, but Chavez refused to comply.

Sgt. Gonzalez instructed Officer Shifflett to prepare to deploy K-9 “Kuno” in an attempt to remove Chavez from the van.

At approximately 2:21 p.m., and upon instruction from Sgt. Gonzalez, SAPD Officer Sean Anthis and Officer Chavez each deployed one round from their 40mm less lethal launchers at Chavez, as K-9 Officer Kuno was sent to apprehend him. Chavez was struck by both less lethal rounds immediately prior to Kuna entering the van through the open passenger door. During these events, SAPD officers continued to order Chavez to surrender.

At approximately, 2:23 p.m., SAPD officers made physical contact with Chavez, and Officer Shifflett called Kuno off the bite. Chavez was then removed from the van and handcuffed. SAPD officers immediately began treating Chavez for dog bite injuries to both his right arm and lower right leg. A request was broadcast to have Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) paramedics respond to the scene.

At approximately 2:29 p.m., OCFA Engine 75 arrived on the scene. An OCFA paramedic saw Chavez being treated by SAPD officers as he was seated handcuffed near a vehicle. The paramedic was informed Chavez was struck by multiple less lethal munitions and had multiple dog bites from the police K-9.

OCFA assumed care of Chavez and found him awake and alert. Upon assessment, his vital signs were found to be stable. Tourniquets and bandaging were applied to Chavez’ right arm and right leg. The paramedic also noticed Chavez had bruising to his right upper torso and right thigh. Chavez appeared confused and reported having diabetes and high blood pressure. The paramedic stabilized Chavez and rode with him to Orange County Global Medical Center (OCGMC). Chavez remained in stable condition while in transport.

At approximately 3:00 p.m., Chavez arrived at the hospital and his care was relinquished to OCGMC medical staff.

At approximately 3:04 p.m., Chavez was admitted to OCGMC for a dog bite to his right lower arm and a dog bite to his right lower leg. Chavez was oriented, coherent. and had normal temperature and skin color. In addition to the dog bites, Chavez was found to have sustained a round two­ inch wound to his abdomen, and a hematoma to both his right leg and inner right thigh. Chavez reported a history of stroke, diabetes, and hypertension. Chavez also had bruising to his right rear flank, which he claimed occurred four days prior when he fell off a ladder or stool.

Chavez was taken to an operating room where an OCGMC surgeon treated his dog bite wounds by removing dead tissue and suturing the wounds.

In addition to treating the dog bite wounds, medical staff conducted multiple additional evaluations on Chavez. This included an ultrasound exam of his chest, a manual and visual examination of his abdomen, chest, and spine, and a computed axial tomography (CAT) scan of his brain. Apart from numerous calcified gallstones, no abnormalities or further injuries were identified. As a result, Chavez was moved to the 4th floor of OCGMC, room #418, to recover.

On September 14, 2022, the OCGMC surgeon contacted Chavez to check on his condition. Chavez complained of decreased motion to his right foot, right knee, right hand, and right arm. The Doctor indicated Chavez’ complaints were expected based on the injuries he sustained.

Chavez was to remain hospitalized and a right arm skin graft surgery was scheduled for September 16, 2022. Additionally, Chavez was prescribed medication to control blood sugar, ulcers, diabetes, anxiety, bacterial infections, constipation, low potassium, and pain.

Chavez’ medical records indicate that after being treated, he was eating well and urinating normally. Chavez also slept, appeared comfortable, and showed no signs of distress. He spoke lucidly with medical staff and recalled details of the incident involving the police. Chavez indicated to medical staff that he was confused at the time he was contacted by police and expressed regrets for not obeying their commands.

At approximately 8:00 p.m., an OCGMC Registered Nurse (RN) contacted Chavez at the beginning of her shift. The RN noted that Chavez was alert, orientated, and communicated clearly. Since Chavez sustained what were believed to be non-life-threatening injuries, he was not connected to an electrocardiogram monitor.

At approximately 10:22 p.m., Chavez was administered 3.375 grams of Zosyn via intravenous line. Zosyn is used to treat bacterial infections.

In an interview with OCDA investigators, the RN stated she contacted Chavez numerous times throughout her shift that evening. Chavez once mentioned having weakness in his right arm and reported having a previous stroke. He did not report any other distress.

On September 15, 2022, at approximately 12:30 a.m., the RN contacted Chavez to reposition him in his bed. She did not notice Chavez to be in distress.

At approximately 2:16 a.m., the RN returned to Chavez’ room to further examine a wound on Chavez’ left foot. When she entered the room, she noted that Chavez appeared to be asleep. She attempted to wake him, but found him unresponsive and pale. Upon further evaluation, she determined he was pulseless and not breathing. The RN immediately called for assistance and started cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

At approximately 2:18 a.m., OCGMC Code Team medical staff began arriving at Chavez’ room. An OCGMC medical doctor assumed control over Chavez’ airway and intubated him. Despite employing multiple advanced cardiac life support measures, Chavez failed to respond.

At approximately 2:34 a.m., he was pronounced deceased.

AUTOPSY

On Friday, September 16, 2022, at approximately 8:00 a.m., Forensic Pathologist Doctor Nicole Ellis conducted the postmortem examination of Chavez at the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Forensic Science Center.

An OCCL Forensic Specialist took 73 color digital photographs and an OCCL Forensic Scientist collected a blood/muscle standard.

Dr. Ellis noted that Chavez suffered from diabetes and noticed blockage to the major arteries of his heart. Dr. Ellis indicated that the injuries Chavez sustained did not appear life-threatening, but could have caused a great deal of blood loss. Dr. Ellis deferred opining on the cause and manner of death until toxicological and microscopic tests were completed.

On June 8, 2023, Dr. Ellis issued a final report. Dr. Ellis identified Chavez’ cause of death as “severe ischemic cardiovascular disease complicated by canine injuries” and the manner of death as “homicide.”

OFFICER USE OF FORCE

The facts in this case are determined by considering SAPD officers’ reports and BWC video,
which were supplemented by additional percipient witness statements and relevant physical evidence related to this incident.

The issue is whether the conduct of any SAPD officers on September 13, 2022, was criminally culpable and without justification. As stated above, to charge any SAPD officer with a criminal violation, it is required that the prosecution be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that no legal justification existed for their conduct. Therefore, in this case, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they did not act in a lawful manner while effectuating Chavez’ arrest. If any SAPD officers’ actions on September 13, 2022, were justifiable as lawful self­ defense or defense of others, or reasonably necessary to effect the arrest of Chavez, then criminal charges will not be warranted.

In this case, SAPD officers were justified in using force to arrest Chavez. This conclusion is based on the totality of the circumstances presented.

Chavez had fled from the scene of an accident. He failed to stop and exit his vehicle once officers located him. He continuously, for approximately ten minutes, engaged in an on-and-off pursuit through the streets of Santa Ana. Even when he stopped during the pursuit, he refused to exit the van. Ultimately, when he finally stopped at the CVS, he still refused to exit the vehicle.

SAPD officers had no way of knowing whether Chavez was armed. There was certainly information presented to them by dispatch to lead them to believe he was armed. Once cornered, SAPD officers used less lethal force to arrest him. Under the totality of the circumstances, this force was not excessive.

Based on Chavez’ behavior, his refusal to comply with lawful commands to stop, his refusal to exit his vehicle, and the information from dispatch of a possible weapon, it was objectively reasonable for SAPD officers to believe the use of non-lethal force was necessary. As a result, SAPD officers’ response and the use of force was justified and the force used was appropriate for the circumstances.

As described above, for any SAPD officer to be justly and lawfully charged and convicted of a crime in this incident, it is the OCDA’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they did use excessive force on Chavez. The prosecution would be unable to carry this burden in this case. Simply stated, SAPD officers carried out their duties as peace officers in a reasonable and justifiable manner.

The SAPD owed Chavez a legal duty of care once he was taken into custody, but the evidence does not support a finding that this duty was breached – either intentionally (as required for murder), or through criminal negligence (as required for involuntary manslaughter). California Government Code 854.6 provides that a public employee and the public entity are liable if the employees knows or has reason to know that the prisoner is in need of immediate medical care and fails to take reasonable actions to summon such care.

Officers from the SAPD took reasonable action to summon care for Chavez once he was restrained. This request came at the same time that Chavez was taken into custody. OCFA paramedics arrived and made initial contact with Chavez six minutes after being called. The evidence establishes that officers from SAPD promptly requested medical care for Chavez.

Furthermore, after Chavez had been restrained and handcuffed, officers immediately began attending to his wounds and requested emergency medical assistance. Within six minutes, OCFA arrived and began treatment and ultimately transported him to OCGMC.

In short, there is no evidence that SAPD personnel or anyone under their control failed to provide all reasonable and necessary care to Chavez after being restrained.



By Editor

The New Santa Ana blog has been covering news, events and politics in Santa Ana since 2009.

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