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Family disputes police version of fatal Santa Ana shooting

January 15, 2013 |  5:37 pm

Santa ana shooting
The family of a man killed by police in Santa Ana disputed the chain of events leading to his shooting, saying the 39-year-old had fallen asleep in his parked car and then was startled when officers began banging on his vehicle.

The death of Binh Van Nguyen has stirred protests and rumors, fanned by coverage on Vietnamese radio and free-wheeling conversation in Little Saigon coffee houses.

In a public outreach effort Monday, Santa Ana city leaders – including Mayor Miguel Pulido and interim Police Chief Carlos Rojas – held a town hall meeting to react to the rumors and offer reassurance that the shooting is being investigated.

“We hope to show the community we are listening,” Cpl. Anthony Bertagna, a police spokesman, said.

Police said they were forced to open fire with semiautomatic handguns when Nguyen tried to drive his white Toyota toward them  early Friday.

Officers cruising through a west Santa Ana neighborhood in patrol car reported that they first spotted Nguyen sitting in the back seat of his parked car. As two uniformed men approached him in the 200 block of Maxine Street, he jumped into the front seat, police said.

The officers said they asked him to leave the car. Instead, he started the ignition and drove toward them, Bertagna said. The area where the 12:45 a.m. incident unfolded is a haven for gang activity and drugs, police said.

But family members countered the official version of what happened.

“The crime scene photos show Binh’s car in a stationary position curbside, with little or no room to maneuver,” the Nguyens said in statement released by their attorney, Michael Guisti.

“Furthermore, the fatal shots were delivered through the driver’s side window, and not through the windshield, as they would have been if an officer had to use deadly force to protect himself,” the family’s statement read.

The family said the officers were not wearing uniforms and that Nguyen – startled from his sleep – had no way of knowing they were police.

“We are grief-stricken beyond words. Binh was a gentle and kind man with a warm personality. He was greatly loved by Quyen Ngo, his wife of 16 years, his two children and the rest of his family.”

Supporters staged a peaceful protest Sunday at the scene where Nguyen, who worked in a dry cleaning shop, was shot.

Both officers involved in the fatality, one a veteran and the other described as “experienced” but new to the department, are on leave but expected to return to duty.

Police found drug paraphernalia in Nguyen’s car, Bertagna said.


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Photo: Investigators checks out the scene of Santa Ana shooting. Credit: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times.