Time and time again, police officers across America prove that they are utterly useless when it comes to dealing with conflicts involving the most vulnerable among us. It doesn’t have to be all cops; there have been enough instances where officers arrived on scenes where no real potential for violence was evident—particularly situations involving Black children or Black people struggling with mental illness and/or addiction—and failed to deescalate things during incidents that ended violently because cops either “feared for their lives,” or couldn’t handle their authority being challenged.
On Sept. 23, last year, 42-year-old Kurt Andras Reinhold—a homeless man who struggled with mental illness, according to his family—was fatally shot after an altercation with sheriff’s deputies in San Clemente, California. On Wednesday, new video and audio footage of the incident—which was also recorded by bystander’s cellphone—was released by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, according to Vice News.
Vice reports that the newly released footage was taken from police dash-cam and a surveillance camera from a nearby motel. The footage shows that the deputies assigned to the homeless outreach team—who stopped Reinhold for jaywalking—weren’t even quite sure if Reinhold had done anything illegal.
At the beginning of the dashboard camera video released Wednesday, one deputy can be heard saying of Reinhold, “Okey-doke, he’s seen you. He’s seen you, copper.”
“Watch this—he’s going to jaywalk,” a second deputy responded before Reinhold crossed the street.
The deputies then seemingly questioned whether Reinhold’s actions were illegal, with the second deputy noting, “It’s controlled, man,” meaning there are traffic lights at the intersection.
“I don’t know, dude,” the first deputy said.
“It is,” the second deputy responded.
“Don’t make case law,” the deputy added.
“It’s not case law,” the first deputy said as he drove the police cruiser out of a parking lot and toward Reinhold, who stood waiting on a sidewalk. Once the car reached Reinhold, he walked toward the back of the cruiser and could no longer be seen on the dashboard camera. The deputies are also not visible.
It’s almost as if the officers, who weren’t even sure if the minor traffic violation was being committed, had the option of leaving Reinhold the fuck alone. Seems like the worst thing that would have happened is a man would have gotten away with jaywalking, but no one would have died in that instance. Instead, this happened:
“What’s going on, man?” one of the deputies—it’s unclear which one—can be heard asking. “How you doing?”
“Hey, hey—you need to stop,” the first deputy told Reinhold.
The deputy added, “Are you going to stop, or are we going to have to make you stop?”
“For what?” Reinhold said.
“For jaywalking,” the first deputy responded.
“What are you talking about?” Reinhold shouted. “I’m walking.”
After that, Reinhold—who is still not visible on the dashboard camera—began to yell, “Get off,” repeatedly asking the deputies, “For what?”
The first deputy asked that Reinhold get on the sidewalk and out of the street, according to the dashboard camera footage. Reinhold can be heard yelling in the video, “Stop touching me.” Bystander cellphone video taken around this time shows that Reinhold repeatedly swatted one of the deputy’s hands away during a confrontation in the middle of the road.
So, a struggle ensued as the deputies—identified as Eduardo Duran and Jonathan Israel, according to the Los Angeles Times—tackled Reinhold to the ground. One officer can be heard shouting that Reinhold had his gun and that’s when the shots are fired.
John Taylor, an attorney who represents Reinhold’s family, said that the video doesn’t show Reinhold going for an officer’s gun. He said Reinhold, who was in a chokehold at the time, was “trying to get a hold of something on the officer to get away from him,” and that he was “ grabbing onto whatever he can to push himself away.”
He also said that he and the family wonder why the officers felt the need to approach Reinhold at all.
“We were always wondering—why did they stop him?” Taylor said. “This man is in no distress, he is not a threat of danger to himself or others.”
In a “critical incident video,” Sgt. Dennis Breckner justified the actions of the deputies by saying that Reinhold was “refusing to obey the deputies’ commands to go back to the sidewalk, and is actively resisting the deputies’ attempt to detain him.”
“During the use of force, one deputy is heard on the witness’s cellphone video saying, ‘he’s got my gun’ multiple times,” Breckner said later in the video. He said that two shots were fired after which the deputies “gained control of the man, assessed his condition and performed CPR.” Reinhold was later pronounced dead at the scene.
A spokesperson for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department told Vice that investigations that are being conducted internally and by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office are ongoing and that “no decisions regarding discipline [of the deputies] will be made until the investigations are complete.”