Gabriel San Roman
Slingshot: Anaheim Police Shooting Eluded Transparency--Until Now
Updated: Mar 15, 2021
Two years ago, I wasted little time in requesting files entitled to me under SB 1421, a new California law allowing for greater access to police records. When I sought documents related to four Anaheim Police Department shootings, the city said I could have them...for a measly sum of $17,920!
But then, in late May last year, as police brutality protests across the nation touched off, the state supreme court ruled against the city of Hayward in a case over such ridiculous redaction fees. With a firm precedent established, I finally got my records from Anaheim--including never-before-published videos of the Nov. 19, 2016 fatal police shooting of Adalid Flores.
To briefly recount the details of the case, Flores fled the scene of a traffic collision near the 91 freeway that night. An off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer saw him running away with a friend. Flores retreated to the driveway of a nearby home. When Anaheim police arrived on scene, he immediately became confrontational--pacing back-and-forth while hiding something behind his back.
Anaheim policeman Scott Eden identified the object as a cellphone. Officer John Yoo, first to the scene, saw a wallet. But officer Lorenzo Uribe remained unconvinced. Thinking Flores had a gun, he gave a final command before shooting him.
Flores had a cellphone all along.
At the time, Anaheim PD adopted a body camera policy. But the Orange County District Attorney's office, under Tony Rackauckas, had yet to implement a public disclosure policy releasing such videos. The Flores case footage fell between the cracks.
When the OCDA cleared Uribe of any criminal culpability in 2017, the videos remained tucked away--until now.
Despite three officers being initially on the scene, only two videos capture the critical moments of the Flores shooting. An Anaheim PD helicopter recorded an infrared video that provides the clearest view. Uribe was the only officer to have had his body camera activated during the incident. His footage provides good enough audio of the conversation between the officers as Flores paced back-and-forth in the driveway while yelling obscenities.
Had the OCDA publicly released the videos, they would've been synched together, giving a more complete picture of what happened as it happened.
The fatal encounter lasted but a few minutes. Uribe and the other officers approached the scene nonchalantly, at first, but once they saw a confrontational Flores yell "Fuck you!" they scaled back with weapons drawn.
"Let me see your hands," Uribe commanded after identifying the officers as being with Anaheim PD.
Flores responded with another "Fuck you!" before flailing his right hand in front of himself before hiding it behind his back again. Uribe asked his fellow officers what they saw him holding.
"Cell phone," said Eden.
"Wallet," responded Yoo.
"Cell phone," repeated Eden, answering Uribe who asked a second time.
In a hushed tone, Uribe then told Eden, "Don't say that."
From above, a helicopter cop radioed that "It sure looks like it could be a gun behind his back." Down on the ground, Uribe offered a similar guess. "I think it's a gun," he said. Seven seconds passed from that moment to when Uribe opened fire. He issued a final command for Flores to show his hands before gunning him down.
The infrared video showed Flores being shot with his right hand still very much behind his back while his left hand lazily swung in front of his pants, clearly showing no object in it.
He grimaced in pain and dropped the cellphone from his right hand in front of himself.
The OCDA Interviews
Three days after the shooting, Uribe gave a voluntary statement to OCDA investigator Craig Brower, a former Fullerton police lieutenant. Based on the transcripts made available via SB 1421, the two men weren't alone. Ryan Hunter and Mark Gell, two Anaheim PD detectives who teamed with OCDA investigators, were also present. Michael Schwartz, a police defense attorney with the Ontario-based Rains, Lucia, Stern firm, joined the bunch and even had the opportunity to ask Uribe, his client, a question.
Brower did most of the probing, though, including having Uribe recount the incident as the officer recalled a brief moment when Flores flailed his right hand with an object in it.
"When he made that quick gesture, as a suspect, I thought he had a gun," said Uribe. "When I asked, 'What is that?' I heard my partner Eden say, 'I think it's a cell phone.' Now, in our line of work, at least in my experience, that whole 'think' word doesn't fly."
Only, as Uribe's own body camera shows, Eden offered no such a qualifier.
In addition to injecting uncertainty into his partner's assessment, Uribe drew attention to his rookie cop status with all of six months on the job to further undermine it.
He also recounted hearing a much firmer assessment from the helicopter cop. But here, too, the officer's memories don't line up with the tape.
"I heard him say, 'He has a gun,'" said Uribe. "I don't remember the correct verbiage. It was clear to me that they had seen a gun as well."
But, as the video shows, the pilot said the object "could be" a gun. Now, in law enforcement does "could be" get discarded like "think?" Nope.
"When he chose to pull his hand out slightly, I shot him," said Uribe of Flores. "As soon I shot the third time, I slowly saw him fall, I think he fell back and he dropped the object. I shined my light on it, I saw that it was a cell phone. It took me back a bit, actually."
Brower interviewed Eden the day after the shooting. His recollections neatly align with Uribe's. "I focused on his right hand," said Eden of Flores. "I tried to tell Uribe 'I think he's got a cellphone in his hands.' I don't know exactly the words that I used."
There's that word "think," again.
Eden told Brower that if Flores made a furtive movement, he would've pulled the trigger. But, unlike Uribe, his gun stayed silent. "I didn't see him make a distinct move forward with his hand," said Eden.
Chris McShane, a former Cypress police detective turned OCDA investigator, handled the Yoo interview. The cop never mentioned that he believed he saw a wallet, only a more ambiguous--and, thus, more dangerous--"black object."
Back to Uribe, Brower returned to Eden's statements as recalled by his partner towards the end of the interview.
"The 'I think' makes officers hesitate, makes officers second guess themselves," said Uribe. "That statement, it agitated me."
Would it have changed matters if Uribe thought his partner said with certainty that Flores had a cellphone? Uribe admits as much, even suggesting that less lethal weapons could've been retrieved.
"At the same time," he offered, "even if he did have a cellphone, that never rules out the possibility that knucklehead still has a gun tucked in his back."
Uribe also freely spoke about one of his two non-fatal police shootings as a Long Beach policeman before coming to Anaheim. In 2014, he chased Travis Charles Brown through the campus of Long Beach City College after approaching him. According to a Los Angeles County District Attorney probe, Uribe fired first at Brown after he pointed a gun at him and took a shot.
"Was I going to give this person an option to do the same?" he said of Flores. "No."
Uribe didn't mention his previous shooting of Carlos Eduardo Romo, a carjacking suspect in 2010. In that case, Romo reached to pull his pants up while complying with a command to crawl on the ground. Uribe interpreted that as a furtive movement. No charges were filed, of course, and his Long Beach past never surfaced in the OCDA report.
Brower seemed more directly interested on why he shot Flores, anyway. "You didn't fire because you gave a command and he didn't follow it?" he asked.
"No, sir," said Uribe. "What caused me to fire is the movement he made that I thought was going to produce a gun."
The MIRT Report
Anaheim PD's Major Incident Review Team (MIRT) is always mentioned as mantra whenever a police spokesperson is questioned about an officer's shooting. It was cited by opponents of the city's police review board as an already existing layer of oversight, one that rendered further reforms unnecessary.
Both Eden and Yoo were asked to participate in the MIRT review in January 2017, after they already spoke to OCDA investigators. Sergeant Chris Moody led the internal review. He advised both officers that they weren't to speak to anyone about the police shooting, save for their personal attorneys. But, both were allowed to review their PUMA digital audio recorders as well as body cameras.
Only, Eden and Yoo didn't activate their body cameras during the Flores incident.
That became a focal point of the July 5, 2018 administrative report. "When asked about this, the two officers...stated their body worn camera battery life was poor and they had turned their cameras completely off prior to the incident."
By then, the department had already replaced body cameras with a model that had a longer-lasting battery life.
This issue first arose publicly during the Office of Independent Review's (OIR) audit of Anaheim PD last year. After vetting the Flores case, OIR recommended a more thorough squaring of an officer's recollection versus recorded evidence as well as pursuing policy concerns, such as turned off body cameras, even if non-disciplinary in nature.
Aside from that, the administrative report also brought up the need to look into upgrading the video recording equipment on police helicopters.
Uribe participated in the MIRT review. Long after the OCDA investigation already was released, the administrative report concluded that Uribe's use of deadly force was within policy.
With that, Uribe still appears to be on the force, surfacing as recently as October 2020 in Anaheim PD social media posts.
What can be learned from reviewing police records available under the law? In the Flores case, the public has an opportunity to square the OCDA report with the video for themselves. They can also contrast it with a civil complaint filed on behalf of Flores' family that originally claimed, based on one witness, that Flores surrendered with his hands up when shot--that didn't happen.
Flores' supposed jerk of his right arm just before he was shot also didn't appear to have happened. Brower noted that himself in an OCDA investigative summary. "The actual time between Uribe's command of 'Let me see your hands, last time,' and when he fired was approximately four seconds," he wrote. "I was unable to discern any movement of Flores' right hand, elbow or shoulder during that four second period."
Only, that assessment didn't make it into the final OCDA report released to the public.
Access to OCDA investigatory files also informs the public of who's present in the room when an officer is interviewed, including their attorney who's allowed to participate. They also illuminate who comprises an investigative team assigned to a case; most of whom here are identifiable as former policemen from various departments in Costa Mesa, Buena Park, West Covina and Fullerton.
And while MIRT is touted as a layer of oversight, the administrative report amounted to outlining a need for camera upgrades. By contrast, OIR, at least, made a case for stronger recommendations.
Then there's what the documents don't delve into.
Far from just being a rookie cop with six months experience, Eden came to Anaheim PD as a decorated military veteran, something the department proudly touts now. He graduated from West Point in 2005 and served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, being promoted to the rank of Major along the way. And on that fateful Nov. 2016 night, he correctly identified what Flores had in his hand, not once, but twice.
Another conclusion evades the copious investigatory documents that have become available under the law. Had Uribe not arrived at the scene of the standoff, Flores might still be alive today.
- Gabriel San Román
(WARNING: the contents of the video are disturbing).
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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina
The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland closed for refurbishment on Jan. 20, 2020, almost two months before the Rona rendered the Mouse House a ghost town for a year--and counting. That means the eerie estate hasn't operated in its non-holiday form since August 2019.
And, as an indoor attraction complete with a massive elevator, it may not immediately return once Disneyland is expected to reopen in late April.
It seems those happy haunts are in a bit of a quarantine themselves and won't have a chance to come out and socialize with anyone anytime soon.
But there's another "Ghostly Retreat" that is more certain to open up this Spring. The folks at Sinister Pointe, who previously brought us the horror-themed Spirit Lounge pop-up bar in Brea, are putting the finishing touches on a Haunted Mansion-inspired Airbnb in Orange County.
The three-bedroom home is just a few miles from Disneyland. From what's been teased online, the decor will be top-notch from perched gargoyles holding flickering candles to carefully chiseled characters. Will it be haunted, too?
Sinister Pointe's adding special effects to the immersive experience like illusions that will appear in mirrors and other delights that go creep in the night.
Or is it your imagination?
So far, the ground rules include no children under 12 and no pets whatsoever, so leave your ravens with a trusted babysitter.
Sinister Pointe's ghostly retreat will mirror Disneyland in another way. Sorry to spook your wallet: It's slated at an average of $350 per night with a two-night stay minimum!
Lead photo: Flores stands in a driveway while the shadow of an Anaheim policeman shows a gun drawn / Video still shot