SANTA ANA (CNS) – Orange County prosecutors today cleared an Orange County sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot a transient during a deadly struggle in San Clemente.
Assistant District Attorney Stephen McGreevy, who is running for Orange County Superior Court judge, authored the report clearing Deputy Eduardo Duran in the fatal shooting of a 42-year-old Black man, Kurt Andreas Reinhold, on Sept. 23, 2020.
Attorney Neil Gehlawat, who represents Reinhold’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit against the county, criticized the report as a “rubber-stamping” by prosecutors of an account by deputies that Reinhold was shot as he tried to snatch away the service revolver from Duran’s partner.
Duran has been a sheriff’s deputy since 2007 and since 2018 was assigned to the San Clemente station. He was on a special detail for the homeless at the time of the conflict as was Deputy Jonathan Israel, who was also involved in the struggle with Reinhold.
The deputies were trained for “outreach, crisis avoidance, dealing with individuals with mental health issues and drug issues,” McGreevy said.
On Sept. 23, 2020, Duran told Israel while they were on patrol that he encountered Reinhold the night before at the Ole Hanson Pool Center off of Pacific Cost Highway in San Clemente, McGreevy said. Duran said he saw video surveillance about 9 p.m. of Reinhold trespassing, so he drove there with two other deputies, one of whom recognized the transient as someone who had frequented the area for about a month, McGreevy said.
When they asked Reinhold if he had permission to sleep there, he said, “God told me I can be here,” the prosecutor said. They offered to help him get services for the homeless, but he did not respond and because they did not have a letter from the owner declaring no trespassing on the property, they left without taking any further action, McGreevy said.
Israel and Duran were on patrol about 1:30 p.m. Sept. 23 when they saw Reinhold walking north on El Camino Real. Israel was behind the wheel and Duran was typing a report on his laptop.
Israel figured Reinhold was homeless, so he made a U-turn and parked at a convenience store parking lot and continued to watch as the man crossed a street “against a solid red-hand signal,” which he apparently mistook as jaywalking, McGreevy said.
Israel turned on his squad car’s lights, prompting Duran to say, “Don’t make case law,” meaning he wanted to make sure his partner had probable cause to detain Reinhold, McGreevy said.
The two got out of their vehicle and ordered Reinhold to stop, but the transient ignored them and kept walking, McGreevy said.
When Israel told him he was being detained, Reinhold said, “For what?” Israel said it was for jaywalking, McGreevy said.
Reinhold “disagreed” and kept going across El Camino Real, prompting Israel to direct traffic and Reinhold back to the sidewalk, McGreevy said
“At no point, did either of the deputies raise their voice, swear or attempt to instigate Reinhold,” McGreevy said. “Keeping their voices controlled and trying to direct him out of the street were their attempts at de-escalation.”
Reinhold “slapped” Israel’s hand away as he tried to get him back to the sidewalk and then hit his hand and arm three more times during the next 90 seconds, McGreevy said.
Two civilian witnesses, including a Camp Pendleton Marine, gave accounts that the deputies were trying to be “nice” and that Reinhold was illegally in the middle of the street, McGreevy said.
After getting Reinhold back onto the sidewalk in front of the Miramar Hotel, he tried to walk back into the street, prompting Israel to block his path and Reinhold to shove him out of the way, which prompted Duran to grab Reinhold by his backpack and take him to the ground, McGreevy said.
During the struggle, Israel “felt his gun belt being pulled and then heard the rattling of his gun in its holster,” McGreevy said. Duran shot Reinhold as Israel kept shouting “He’s got my gun!” according to McGreevy.
Duran warned Reinhold to “drop it or I’ll shoot,” but the suspect continued to resist and Duran shot him, McGreevy said. When Reinhold continued to struggle, Duran shot him again, McGreevy said.
Prosecutors had the Orange County Crime Lab test Israel’s pistol handgrip and holster and found Reinhold was a “major contributor to the DNA mixture,” McGreevy said. Prosecutors had BODE Technology, another crime lab, also do tests and found Reinhold’s DNA on Israel’s pistol grips, McGreevy said.
“Based on the totality of all the available evidence, it is clear that Deputy Duran was justified in believing Reinhold posed a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to his partner, himself and the surrounding civilians,” McGreevy said.
The prosecutor also said their initial contact with Reinhold “was justified because he had violated a vehicle code section (crossing against a red light).”
He added, “The fact that Deputy Israel indicated to Reinhold he was being stopped for `jaywalking’ does not negate the deputy’s lawful authority to stop Reinhold for his violation of walking against a red hand for pedestrian traffic.”
“He was not in fact jaywalking and they instead gave the deputies the benefit of the doubt and found another vehicle section he may have been violating even though that’s not what the deputies were stopping him for,” Gehlawat said. “That shows the lengths they will go to cover for the deputies.”
The deputies “had no business stopping him in the first place,” Gehlawat said. “Everything after that is unlawful. The standard for a detention under the Fourth Amendment is the officers have to have a reasonable suspicion he is committing a crime and I don’t think that standard is met.”
The civil attorney said the detention of Reinhold was “racially motivated. If Kurt Reinhold is white, this never happens and he continues on with his day.”
Gehlawat said the DNA on the deputy’s gun does not prove his client intended harm.
“We’ll concede his hand touched that part of the deputy’s” holster, the attorney said. “You can see it on the video. But our view is it is incidental and he was trying to push it away from the deputy because he was in a headlock. He was not trying to get the gun. He just wanted the deputies to leave him alone.”
If Reinhold was unlawfully arrested, it could be argued he had a right to self-defense, Gehlawat said.
It was news to Reinhold’s family that Duran had encountered him the night before.
“This is the first we’re hearing about that,” he said. “Does it mean the deputy had an ax to grind?”
Gehlawat also criticized prosecutors for listing previous encounters Reinhold had with officers in other incidents that did not lead to any charges.
He said the office does that to “malign the character” of the suspects involved in conflicts with police and that it amounted to “victim-blaming.”
Reinhold’s “family is disappointed, but not surprised,” Gehlawat said. “We had prepared them for this possibility given it happens 99% of the time in these situations. … It’s disappointing that it took 17 months to get here, but I think they’re happy it’s over and they can check it off the list and move forward with our case.”
The report clears the way for more evidence to be turned over to the civil attorneys, and the case is not expected to go to trial until next year, Gehlawat said.