ANAHEIM >> A 13-year-old boy arrested Tuesday after a confrontation with an off-duty Los Angeles police officer who discharged his gun — a scene caught by several cellphone videos that went viral and became national news — was released from Orange County Juvenile Hall the next day, Anaheim police said on Thursday.
But he and everyone involved in the case could still be charged with crimes, police said in a Thursday press conference.
The off-duty officer, who was not arrested, voluntarily went to the station that same day and was processed — with some clothes items taken, his cheek swabbed for DNA and his gun, a personal firearm separate from his Los Angeles Police Department-issued one, confiscated, Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada said.
Amid a series of protests and hundreds of telephone calls to City Hall, Anaheim officials on Thursday tried to assuage the frustrations of many in the community by promising to conduct an “impartial and thorough” investigation. Police investigators expect to file their report with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, which will weigh charges, within two weeks.
Quezada said that during the initial investigation there was “insufficient evidence to arrest the officer,” but, at the time, “clear and compelling evidence” to arrest the 13-year-old.
“I wish the officer had awaited our officers’ arrival,” Quezada said. “As a father and as a police chief, I, too, am disturbed by what I saw on the videos posted on the internet. But as police chief, I am charged with enforcing the law.”
Meanwhile, Los Angeles police are conducting an administrative investigation into the off-duty cop’s actions, said LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore, and any punishment would likely come from the Police Commission by way of a recommendation from Chief Charlie Beck.
“This process is not something that happens overnight,” Moore said. “We need to ensure we gather as much information as exists.”
• VIDEO: Off-duty LAPD officer scuffles with teens, fires gun (Warning: Video contains foul language)
The 13-year-old was initially arrested on suspicion of threatening to shoot the off-duty officer. A 15-year-old was also arrested on suspicion of battery and released Tuesday to his parents.
Tuesday’s confrontation with the LAPD officer and the boy began over ongoing issues with teenagers walking across the officer’s property, Anaheim police Sgt. Daron Wyatt said.
The off-duty cop, it appears, confronted the 13-year-old and then tried to detain him for allegedly making threats about shooting him around 2:40 p.m. Monday in the 1600 block of West Palais Road, near Euclid Street, Quezada said.
Videos surfacing Wednesday on social media shows the off-duty officer struggling with the 13-year-old, and several other teenagers who were aggressive with the officer, before discharging a handgun. It was unclear if he fired on purpose; the shot appeared to go downward, and no one was struck.
The altercation may have started because of a misunderstanding between the boy and the officer, said Gregory Perez, 16, who said he witnessed the incident.
“The little kid said, ‘I’m going to sue you,’ and then the guy thought he said, ‘I’m going to shoot you,’ “ the 16-year-old said. “That’s when he started grabbing the little kid.”
It is unclear whether the off-duty officer identified himself as a cop. But based on video evidence, in which voices can be heard debating whether he was really a cop, “common sense” leads you to believe he probably identified himself at some point, said Wyatt, the Anaheim police spokesman.
Police officers, even when off-duty, have the ability to arrest people; LAPD officers have the option to carry firearms when off-duty, a department spokesperson said. The officer’s personal firearm was legal and “there’s no question about his ability to carry it,” Wyatt said.
A boy who said he was the 15-year-old arrested for assault and battery told Orange County Register on Thursday that he punched the officer to get him to release the younger boy. “When he shot, he almost hit my foot,” the teen said. “Then I ran away.”
It is still unclear why the officer fired his gun, but Wyatt said that the witnesses, including juveniles shown in the video, said in interviews that the officer never pointed it at anyone and they didn’t feel threatened.
“That doesn’t mean he couldn’t be charged with negligent discharge of a firearm,” Wyatt said.
In the Anaheim neighborhood where the incident played out on Tuesday, tensions remained high on Thursday.
The residential area had been rattled the night before by rowdy protesters who broke windows and vandalized homes while demanding the arrest of the off-duty policeman. Twenty-three people were arrested among the several hundred protesters who had gathered.
That largely peaceful protest devolved into chaos at times, with house windows and vehicle windshields broken, and graffiti sprayed on walls and a garage calling police “pigs” and calling for people to “kill cops.”
Epithets were hurled as police in riot gear formed a scrimmage line. Others called for peace and denounced a system they view as inherently racist.
“I don’t call them heroes, I call them killers,” said Claudia Garcia of Anaheim. “Every time I’ve called them, they haven’t done anything.”
On Thursday, as neighbors gathered in their yards, Anaheim police officers remained in patrol cars outside of the house. They also guarded the officer’s home against demonstrators.
Joe Gulrich said the shooting took place in his yard about a half-block from the officer’s home. Wednesday night police officers spirited Gulrich and his wife to a friend’s house as protesters moved in.
“I got the hell out,” said Gulrich, 76.“It was ugly.”
When Gulrich returned home around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, he found that protesters had thrown a brick through a bedroom window and spray-painted a profanity on his garage door, apparently believing the officer lived there.
“I had nothing to do with it,” he said about the confrontation.
The incident had echoes of a similar one five years ago, when a pair of police shootings happened on back-to-back days and led to rowdy protests in front of City Hall.
“The world’s eyes are on Anaheim again because of a confrontation between a police officer and young people,” said Anaheim Councilman Jose Moreno. “There has been so much work that people have put in to create substantive and meaningful relationships to bring people and neighborhoods together.
“This is a test on how substantive our relationships truly are.”
Staff writer Joseph Pimentel contributed to this report.
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