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
A lawsuit filed against the County of Orange on Thursday, Dec. 17, accuses two deputy sheriffs of using excessive and unreasonable force against Kurt Reinhold, the 42-year-old homeless Black man who was shot and killed during an altercation with the officers outside a San Clemente hotel in late September.
Reinhold, who was unarmed, is believed by authorities to have reached for the firearm of one of the two homeless outreach deputies as they wrestled during the scuffle that occurred in the early afternoon of Sept. 23 on El Camino Real, just outside Hotel Miramar.
Attorneys representing Reinhold’s family—including his wife, Latoya Reinhold, and his mother, Judy Reinhold-Tucker—filed the wrongful death suit against the county in federal court, arguing that the two unnamed deputies escalated their encounter with Reinhold, who reportedly suffered from mental illness and intermittent homelessness for the past few years.
“One thing is clear: the deputies who shot and killed Kurt did exactly the opposite of what well-trained officers are expected to do,” attorney Neil Gehlawat said in a press release, further alleging that one of the officers had already drawn his department-issued taser near the onset of the interaction.
“Instead of de-escalating the situation, these deputies clearly escalated—by having a taser drawn, tackling Kurt, and then shooting and killing him,” Gehlawat continued in the release. “This lawsuit not only aims to expose the injustice surrounding Kurt’s death, but also the lack of adequate training provided to these deputies.”
In an email to San Clemente Times, Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Carrie Braun said the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit comes more than two months after the Reinhold family first filed a government claim of wrongful death against the county, as well as the two officers involved. The officers were not named in the lawsuit, because their identities were unknown at the time of the court filing.
The lawsuit, however, stated that the officers’ names would be included in an amended filing when they have been confirmed.
SC Times has learned the identities of the two officers involved in the shooting through a public records request with OCSD. According to the department, the officers were Eduardo Duran and Jonathan Israel.
Gehlawat and lead attorney John Taylor had previously explained that the government claim was the initial step before they could file the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, the Reinhold family, which is demanding that the case go before a jury trial, alleges that the deputies violated the late Reinhold’s Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable searches and seizures, and that the county’s training polices are inadequate in addressing certain circumstances.
Such circumstances include dealing with mentally unfit individuals, the use of deadly force and intervening “when other officers are observed to be acting unreasonably or using excessive force,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit goes on to accuse the county of maintaining “unconstitutional customs, practices and/or policies” when it comes to handling individuals suffering from mental illness, and “using the Homeless Outreach Team as a façade to disproportionately target and detain individuals of color.”
It remains unclear why the officers had stopped Reinhold, who, based on eyewitness accounts, had been walking along the thoroughfare after purchasing snacks from a nearby liquor store just minutes before his interaction with the deputies
An investigation into the matter is currently being conducted by the Orange County District Attorney’s office. OCSD has said it also is conducting its own internal investigation. Sheriff Don Barnes previously stated that part of the investigation is determining what led to the contact.
The DA’s office had not responded to a request seeking an update on the investigation as of this posting.
Cellphone camera footage of the interaction and subsequent altercation, taken from across the street, showed Reinhold telling the deputies to “stop touching me” and asking, “What is your problem?” as he tried to walk away.
The nearly 90-second video also shows the deputies notifying Reinhold that he had been jaywalking, instructing him to sit down.
The altercation ensued when one deputy grabbed Reinhold from the side, while the second deputy came around and appeared to tackle him, resulting in all three going to the ground. The two deputies are then seen pinning Reinhold on the ground.
The camera video continues to roll, showing the struggle further unfolding across the street while motorists passed between the videographer and the altercation. 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.
While Barnes has claimed that Reinhold can be seen reaching for the deputy’s firearm in the video, the Reinhold family’s attorneys argue that any contact made with the weapon during the altercation was purely incidental and not intentional.
In early October, when Reinhold’s family first filed the wrongful death claim to the state, the attorneys called on OCSD to release to the family several pieces of key information related to the incident, including records of OCSD’s previous contacts with Reinhold.
They also sought the autopsy report and the names of the deputies so a request could be made to examine their personnel files to determine whether they had prior incidents of excessive force, as well additional footage of the Sept. 23 incident.
On Thursday, the attorneys said none of those details had yet been released to the family.
“The Reinhold family is frustrated by the Department’s complete lack of transparency,” Taylor said in the release. “The Department and Sheriff Barnes still have not provided an explanation as to why these deputies were interacting with Kurt in the first place, and despite multiple requests, the Department has failed to turn over their investigative reports relating to the shooting.”
According to the lawsuit, the Reinhold family is seeking monetary damages, as well as punitive damages, against the two officers involved.
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.