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By Shawn Raymundo
Last week’s police shooting of 42-year-old Kurt Reinhold stunned the community and those who knew him as more details surrounding his death slowly emerge from the ongoing investigation into the altercation that turned deadly outside of a local hotel.
Reinhold, a Black homeless man who authorities believe reached for an officer’s firearm while wrestling with two homeless outreach deputies on El Camino Real, is the latest face to be held up by activists as a symbol of police brutality and racial injustice.
The day after Reinhold’s death, mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter rallies were staged in San Clemente reinvigorating a local conversation on racial equality, the treatment of Black Americans and defunding the police—aspects of a national movement sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed in police custody at the start of the summer.
But for those who knew the husband and father of two, Reinhold was a caring and spiritual individual, who was more than just a headline.
“The one thing I can say about Kurt is he was a very kind dude. He was very warmhearted … a hard-working guy. He cared about all of us,” said Todd Doram, a friend of Reinhold’s. “You can trust Kurt 100% with just about anything. He was the kind of guy who would be there for you.”
Keith Terrell, who currently lives in Atlanta but knew Reinhold and Doram through the Peace Apostolic Church in Carson, echoed Doram’s sentiments, calling Reinhold “one of the most genuine, caring, sincere people you would ever meet.”
“He was somebody devoted to his faith and the church. A lot of the conversations (we had) were him wanting to do the best he could, wanting the best for you,” Terrell said. “He genuinely wanted to see people win—those around you. He had a huge heart.”
Terrell also knew Reinhold as a musician who would write Christian rap music.
“I think for a lot of young Black men, that’s one of the avenues we use to express ourselves,” Terrell said, adding: “I found out he was doing more music and more rap, Christian rap. So, it was another way for him to express his faith. Since his passing, another mutual friend, a producer, sent me Kurt’s songs, so I’ve been listening those songs.”
In a Facebook post from the Peace Apostolic Church over the weekend, Reinhold was further remembered as a man confident in his faith, and someone as “tenderhearted as he was valiant.”
“Moreover, he was kind in a world that is not,” Howard Arthur Swancy, the church pastor, said in the post. “My beloved son grappled with some complicated challenges, as we all do; sometimes, these hills are hard to climb, but he always gave his very best. I believe his soul’s desire was to serve the Lord.”
As of press time, officials with the church had not returned San Clemente Times’ request for comment.
How Reinhold, a hard-working car salesman for a Nissan dealership in L.A. County and a musician so deeply in tune with his faith and convictions, ended up homeless in San Clemente remains unclear, noted Doram. The two, he explained, first met through the church about 20 years ago, and would hang out socially and even did business together for a time.
“I don’t really know a lot of the reasons why he ended up where he was at,” Doram said. “I started going to a different church 10 years ago. It wasn’t like we lost contact; I just hadn’t talked to him in the past couple of years. Seeing him houseless was surprising to me.”
“The big thing that stuck out to me was, because of how well we know who he is and his character and his kindness and those kinds of things, that’s what makes it the most sad to see, how he passed away,” Doram said. “I know the sheriff’s (deputies) who killed him, when they approached him, they didn’t see him as the Kurt that we know.”
Since the shooting, surveillance footage and cell phone video that captured the incident have surfaced, giving a glimpse into the events that led to the altercation between Reinhold and the two Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputies, and the gunshots that killed him on that early Wednesday afternoon.
OCSD has pointed to the surveillance footage as evidence that Reinhold attempted to reach for one of the deputy’s firearms during the struggle, which had occurred at around 1:15 p.m. on Sept. 23, outside the Hotel Miramar.
At the start of the nearly 90-second cell phone video that has circulated on social media, the deputies instruct Reinhold to get out of the road and sit down, as he appeared to be jaywalking.
The video doesn’t show the moments when the deputies first approached Reinhold, and those details as to why deputies contacted him remain unclear, as OCSD has not yet released that information.
Reinhold is seen in the video telling the deputies to “stop touching me” and asking “what is your problem?” as he tried to walk away. The video cuts to show Reinhold continuing to walk away as one officer extends his arm, pushing him back.
The video, recorded from the other side of the street, later shows one deputy grabbing Reinhold from the side, while the second deputy comes around and appears to tackle him, resulting in all three going to the ground. The two deputies are then seen pinning Reinhold on the ground.
As the struggle continued, with motorists passing between the videographer and what was unfolding across the street, yelling ensues, and just as a truck and SUV pass by, a gunshot goes off. Another one goes off seconds later while the videographer positions himself behind a vehicle.
The video ends with deputies attempting to perform life-saving measures on Reinhold.
“They didn’t know deep down how kind Kurt is, and if they approached him at all with that level of understanding, I know he would not be dead right now,” Doram said. “Because Kurt was not a person to be aggressive and he wouldn’t have agitated anything along those lines, and that’s the part that was just so sad . . . knowing how unnecessary his death was.”
According to OCSD, deputies are required to undergo crisis intervention training to be homeless liaison officers, which includes training for de-escalation and mental health identification.
On occasion, homeless liaisons and members of homeless outreach organizations, such as the city’s contractor, City Net, will coordinate to conduct engagement with homeless individuals out on the street.
OCSD spokesperson Carrie Braun previously told San Clemente Times the two deputies involved in the shooting were not accompanied by City Net workers the day of the incident. City Net officials this week also said they weren’t accompanying those deputies that afternoon.
City Net and law enforcement partners, including OCSD, are very collaborative, said Chelsea Bowers, director of public affairs for City Net. She explained that City Net, which has been contracted by the city since December, facilitates outreach and engagement both with and without law enforcement.
“I think any time you can be collaborative can be effective. If law enforcement is around, it can provide safety,” Bowers said, noting that officers can help City Net staff gain access to certain areas where homeless individuals are living to get “off the radar to the public.”
“But definitely collaboration across the board, especially with other nonprofit agencies,” she said. “It doesn’t just take one nonprofit or one supportive service to get (homeless individuals) off the street.”
According Bowers, City Net staff who work in the field undergo 40 hours of training on a variety of topics including motivational interviewing, problem-solving, therapy, and de-escalation.
She said those in the field work in two-person teams and get trained on how to respect a client’s boundaries to avoid physical altercations, and that they will walk away from such situations to keep themselves safe.
“Thank goodness we haven’t had any (incidents) yet,” she said, noting that the protocol is to walk away and then “we’ll document. If a client has been a little bit more specific with how they don’t want to interact with, we document and walk from it … we keep ourselves safe, and we can always try again in the future.”
According to City Net’s monthly report to the city, staff had made contact 1,563 times with individuals who are homeless in San Clemente between December and August. That number doesn’t reflect the number of homeless; rather, it is the number of times staff had met with individuals.
In the latest report for August, City Net noted that there were 34 clients currently engaged in case management and that since being contracted with the city, there have been 42 individuals who accepted offers to go to an emergency shelter.
Maya Askar, an employee at Beach Front Liquor, just around the bend from Hotel Miramar, said she wasn’t working at the time of the shooting, but said she had briefly interacted with Reinhold a handful of times at the other store where she works, Victoria Market & Liquor.
“That’s where I first saw him, I want to say, a couple of months ago,” Askar said before noting that her first time meeting him, he seemed “scary” and would always appear to be “on edge.”
“My dad works with me there, and he told me, ‘He’s fine, just give him some food, he’ll be OK.’ And then he would just come every now and then,” she said. “He usually asks, ‘Hey, I can mop or clean if I can just get some food,’ and we usually just give him some food and then he just takes off.”
Askar noted that the two did eventually build a bit of a rapport, recalling that just days before the shooting, she gave him her ramen and asked what his name was.
“He looked at me kind of like hesitating; he’s like ‘you want to know my name?’ and I (said), ‘Yeah, what’s your name?’ ” she said. “It took him a second; he says, ‘It’s Kurt.’ I said, ‘OK, Kurt, have a good day.’ He says, ‘You, too’ and then walks out. And then he comes in the next day.”
On Monday of the week of the shooting, he came back to the Victoria store, where she was sitting outside with a friend.
“He comes up and asks, ‘Are you good?’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, I’m good.’ And he goes, ‘Are you sure? Are you good? Are you good? Is this guy bothering you?’ I go, ‘No, dude, he’s fine,’ ” she recalled. “He goes charging inside, waits for me to give him food, and he just runs off, and that’s the last time I’d seen him.”
Askar said it was unusual that Reinhold had been in the south side of town, noting that she always saw him at the Victoria store near downtown.
“I never talked to him more than that. I just would ask him how his day is, and he always said, ‘Good, I’m blessed, I’m blessed,’ ” she said. “Other than that, I had never asked him any other question.”
One of the last people to see and interact with Reinhold was another employee of a nearby business who told SC Times that he had asked for a couple of dollars to buy some food at the liquor store.
“He had said, ‘Hey, can you spare a couple bucks? I’m hungry. I was just going to buy some food,’ ” said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I personally had already had a couple of people come up to me and ask for money that day, so I just kind of rolled my eyes at him, which I know, in retrospect, feel really terrible about. My boss is really generous, and she gave him a couple of dollars.”
Reinhold, the employee said, went into the liquor store and purchased a couple bags of peanuts and went on his way. Within minutes, the OCSD cruiser pulled over in front of the liquor store and adjacent flower shop to speak with Reinhold.
“He wasn’t doing anything; he wasn’t being weird with us. He wasn’t causing any problems that I’m aware of anywhere,” the employee said. “He came up, asked for a couple of bucks. We gave him some money; he went on his way.”
“He was just a normal dude—you know, obviously a little down on his luck, but yeah, he didn’t look like he was bothering anybody or anything,” the employee later added.
That employee didn’t see the shooting, noting that the incident was out of the line of sight. But the employee and the boss did for a short while watch as the deputies tried to get Reinhold back onto the sidewalk from the middle of the street. Moments later, the gunshots were heard.
“We walked back inside the shop here, so it was just kind of like I heard the ‘bop, bop,’ ” the employee said. “I was like, ‘Did I just hear that? Did they just shoot him?’ Why would they do that? Because all they needed to do was let him keep walking, call another unit or whatever; it seemed unnecessary to me, but I wasn’t in that situation, and I wasn’t the officer having to deal with somebody maybe trying to grab a weapon.”
Prior to the day of the shooting, the employee hadn’t previously noticed or interacted with Reinhold in the area, and could only describe him as a guy just passing through who needed money, food and somewhere to be.
“He seemed like a dude who was down on his luck,” the employee said. “He seemed to me like he had somewhere to be, like he was going to catch a bus or something. He didn’t seem . . . he didn’t seem like he was on drugs, he didn’t seem super sketchy.”
Overall, the entire experience was surreal, the employee said, noting that everything happened very quickly.
“To have someone standing in front of me alive and coherent one second and then to know that they’re down the street 10 minutes later having been shot by the police, how does that go south so fast? How does that happen so quickly?” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me. But again, I’m not the officer having to contend with that person.”
The Orange County District Attorney’s office is conducting an investigation into the matter, and OCSD has said it will also be conducting an internal investigation as well. SC Times will continue to follow this story as it unfolds.
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.