SUPPORT THIS INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM
The article you’re about to read is from our reporters doing their important work — investigating, researching, and writing their stories. We want to provide informative and inspirational stories that connect you to the people, issues and opportunities within our community. Journalism requires lots of resources. Today, our business model has been interrupted by the pandemic; the vast majority of our advertisers’ businesses have been impacted. That’s why the SC Times is now turning to you for financial support. Learn more about our new Insider’s program here. Thank you.
By Shawn Raymundo
The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, July 13, reached a $195,000 settlement agreement in a lawsuit that accused an off-duty officer of pulling a handgun on teenagers at a San Clemente skate park in 2019.
Alleging negligence, assault, civil rights violations and emotional distress, Max Chance III of San Juan Capistrano this past March filed the civil suit against the county, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Michael Thalken.
Video recordings taken from the Oct. 12, 2019 incident at Ralphs Skate Court captured Thalken, a sheriff’s investigator, pulling out a firearm while confronting a group of teens, including Chance, who was then 16, over loud music.
The lawsuit alleges that throughout the confrontation Thalken didn’t identify himself as an officer, and at one point instructed Chance, whose father, Max Chance Jr., is a retired OCSD sergeant, to kneel “or I will shoot you in the (expletive) face.”
“The family is pleased that this chapter in their son’s life has come to an end and that some justice was served,” Chance’s attorney, Eric Traut, said in a prepared statement.
In an email to San Clemente Times, Traut further explained that the board, with its 4-0 vote on Tuesday, agreed to pay the $195,000 to have the complaint dropped. No other terms were attached to the agreement, he said.
OCSD had previously stated that an internal investigation was completed, resulting in Thalken being disciplined, though details of those actions couldn’t be disclosed. Thalken was later put back on duty, according to the department.
According to the lawsuit, a band had been playing at the skate park when Thalken, donning street clothes, had demanded they stop after walking over from a Little League game that was being played at the nearby baseball fields.
“Max III was on the opposite side of the skate park when he noticed Deputy Thalken walking toward the band and yelling,” the lawsuit stated. “Deputy Thalken appeared angry and possibly intoxicated. … He did not identify himself as an officer as he approached or confronted the band and other teens at the skate park.”
The confrontation began to escalate after one witness, identified as Cole Gragg, began to mimic Thalken’s “drunk-like walk” as the deputy was yelling, “Where’s the tough guy?” Chance reportedly tried to intervene when Thalken confronted Gragg, advising Gragg “to back up.”
“Video footage reveals the moment immediately after, when Max III begins backing up and raises his skateboard to defend himself against a potential assault from the man he had no idea was a law enforcement officer,” the complaint detailed, adding that Chance “did not threaten or attempt to assault Deputy Thalken.”
Afterward, the lawsuit goes on, Thalken was told to “get on your knees.”
“He still did not identify himself as law enforcement as he brandished and pointed his handgun at Max III’s face,” the lawsuit stated. “Max III got down to his knees and complied, while others pleaded with Deputy Thalken to stop what he was doing.”
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.