OCDA issues officer-involved shooting report of Eliuth Nava

Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) Todd Spitzer released the investigation findings and legal conclusions of the Anaheim Police Department (APD) officer-involved shooting of Eliuth Nava.

The full letter, “OCDA Report Officer-Involved Shooting Investigation – Eliuth Nava,” is available at www.orangecountyda.org by selecting Officer-Involved Shootings and Custodial Death Letters under the Reports pull-down menu. The relevant video/audio evidence is available on the OCDA webpage http://orangecountyda.org/reports/videoandaudio/default.asp.

This article was released by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Selected excerpts from the letter appear below.

Please accept this letter detailing the Orange County District Attorney’s Office’s (OCDA) investigation in connection with the above-listed incident involving on-duty Anaheim Police Department (APD) Officers Sean Staymates and Kevin Pedersen. Eliuth Penaloza Nava, 50, died as a result of his injuries. This incident occurred in the City of Anaheim on July 21, 2018.
While the District Attorney does not address tactics, training, or administrative procedures, the District Attorney of Orange County, and the public, expect the APD to make sure that the conduct of the two involved officers is reviewed administratively for proper, fair, and complete accountability. The fact that the two involved officers discharged their weapons 76 times, from a moving patrol car at Nava’s moving car, at approximately 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, in a residential neighborhood where residents, including children, were home and on the streets, was alarming and irresponsible based on the totality of all the circumstances in this specific case. The District Attorney’s conclusion that all the available evidence is insufficient to warrant the filing of criminal charges against the two officers, should not in any way diminish the fact that the District Attorney is alarmed by this conduct, and along with the public, is relying on APD to fairly take any and all appropriate administrative actions and remedies.
The OCDA recognizes that releasing video and audio evidence of officer-involved shooting and custodial death incidents can assist the public in understanding how and why these incidents occur, increase accountability, and build public trust in law enforcement. Consistent with the OCDA’s written policy in connection with the release of video and audio evidence relating to officer-involved shooting and custodial death incidents where it is legally appropriate to do so, the OCDA is releasing to the public video/audio evidence in connection with this case. The relevant video/audio evidence is available on the OCDA webpage http://orangecountyda.org/reports/videoandaudio/default.asp.
Here, both Officer Pedersen and Officer Staymates were justified in believing that Nava posed a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to both officers and to others. This conclusion is based on the totality of the circumstances, but mainly based on the conduct of Nava in the moments leading up to and during the shooting. Officers received a call informing them that Nava was armed with a gun and knife, and under the influence of some unknown drug.

While it was later determined that what the officers believed to be a handgun, was in actuality a CO2 air pistol BB gun, both Officer Staymates and Officer Pedersen reasonably believed the gun to be a firearm capable of firing live ammunition. Their belief that the BB gun was a firearm was reasonable considering the appearance of the gun, as well as the way in which Nava was using it. The gun was black in color, had no orange tip or any other markings to distinguish it from a real firearm, and the gun looked extremely similar to a semi-automatic handgun. Additionally, Nava’s actions throughout the pursuit such as pointing the gun in the air and at the officers further bolstered the officers’ reasonable belief the gun was a real firearm.

The reasonable belief of both officers that the gun was real along with Nava’s erratic behavior pointing and waiving the gun out of the vehicle in different directions, reasonably lead the officers to justifiably believe that Nava not only posed a significant threat to himself, but also to the lives of the two officers and to the public. Both Officers Staymates and Pedersen were therefore justified in their belief that Nava posed a real danger.

Nava ignored all the commands of the officers to stop the vehicle, and instead proceeded to lead the officers on a vehicle pursuit. He ignored the activated lights and sirens of the patrol vehicle signaling him to stop, and instead continued to accelerate away from the officers. During the pursuit, Nava pointed the gun outside of the window and towards the officers, waiving it around in different directions in a populated area. Nava recklessly pointed the gun out of his Truck in a residential area on a Saturday morning, where many civilians were out on the sidewalks, in their front yards, and driving in cars alongside Nava.

Throughout the course of the pursuit Nava refused to stop the vehicle, blew through multiple intersections nearly crashing into pedestrians and other cars, all while waiving the gun out of the window and pointing it at those on the street as well as at Officers Pedersen and Staymates. When Nava eventually stopped the vehicle, he did not give the officers any indication of surrender and the officers indicated, reasonably based on all the available evidence, that they believed Nava would exit the vehicle and open fire.

Both Officers Pedersen and Staymates reasonably feared their lives were in danger multiple times during the pursuit when Nava pointed the gun directly at them. Multiple witnesses also saw Nava pointing the gun out of window and at the officers. Video surveillance and BWC footage also corroborate the officers’ account of Nava’s reckless driving pattern, his failure to yield, and the officers’ reasonable belief that Nava was intending to fire a gun at them.

Both officers stated that they did what they believed was necessary in order to stop the threat, and the conduct of the officers in doing so was reasonable. It should also be noted that, in order for Officers Staymates and Pedersen to be justly and lawfully charged and convicted with a crime in this incident, it is the OCDA’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officers Staymates and Pedersen did not act in reasonable and justifiable self-defense or defense of another when they shot at Nava.

As should be apparent from the above-described analysis, the prosecution would be unable to carry this burden in this case. A jury analyzing these facts would justly conclude that it was reasonable for Officers Staymates and Pedersen to believe that their lives and the lives of others in the area were in danger.