Orange County prosecutors Tuesday said an Anaheim police officer was legally justified when he shot and killed Joel Acevedo, 22, last year. The shooting of Acevedo and Manuel Diaz sparked violent protests in the city. (File photo: Genevieve Huizar, mother of Manuel Diaz, waits to speak at the Anaheim City Council meeting on August 8, 2012. After an unarmed Diaz was killed by Anaheim police in July, the community erupted in protest).
Orange County prosecutors say an Anaheim police officer was legally justified when he shot and killed a 22-year-old man last year.
The finding announced Monday said Officer Kelly Phillips acted in self-defense in a "killed or be killed" situation.
Joel Acevedo, a suspected gang member, was fatally shot after he shot at an officer while fleeing.
Acevedo's death on July 22, 2012, and the previous day's killing of another man by a different Anaheim police officer sparked violent protests in the city best known as the home of Disneyland.
Prosecutors earlier also found police legally justified in the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Manuel Diaz, who was unarmed. Police said Diaz ran from officers and was a documented gang member, an allegation his family has denied.
In a letter to Anaheim's Interim Police Chief Raul Quezada prosecutors concluded that Officer Kelly Phillips was justified when he fatally shot Joel Acevedo.
Orange County Deputy District Attorney Steve McGreevy said Phillips was justified in firing at the suspect.
"Acevedo was concealed in the darkness behind a car while Officer Phillips was standing vulnerable in the parking lot," McGreevy said in the letter. "Officer Phillips then saw Acevedo moving behind a car and he believed that he was in a 'kill or be killed' scenario when he shot Acevedo."
A gun was found in Acevedo's hand and his DNA was on a gun found near the suspect's feet, McGreevy said. He also said three bullet cartridges were found near the suspect that were fired from his gun.
McGreevey's report states that about 11:20 p.m. on July 22, 2012, Phillips and two other officers assigned to a gang suppression unit were on patrol when they saw a woman driving an SUV and recognized her as having a gang affiliation.
The SUV driver, Vanessa Janine Duran, claimed Acevedo was caught by police and dragged a short distance before he was "executed," McGreevy said. Her account, however, was contradicted by physical evidence at the scene, he added.
Duran made her statement under an agreement with prosecutors that her account would not be used against her in her case, McGreevy said.
Duran later pleaded guilty to evading police, something she denied during her statement to investigators, and was sentenced to a year in jail, McGreevy said.
The shootings touched off a series of demonstrations, some of which turned violent. Police angered protesters by firing non-lethal rounds at demonstrators, at least one of whom was bitten by a police dog that got away from its handler.