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Ex-O.C. Police Officer Shot to Death by FBI : Crime: Bank robbery suspect is killed trying to flee agents. He was convicted last year of embezzlement.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A former Fountain Valley police officer, who once won a Medal of Valor but was fired for embezzling $36,000 from his police union, was shot to death Monday in a shopping center parking lot by FBI agents as they tried to arrest him as a suspect in a string of bank robberies.

Kevin D. Arnold, 34, of Mission Viejo was shot once in the chest about 2 p.m. at the Portola Plaza, FBI spokesman Gary Morley said. The agents had a federal arrest warrant accusing Arnold of robberies in San Diego County, Morley said.

As two FBI agents approached Arnold outside a McDonald’s restaurant in the 27700 block of Santa Margarita Parkway, he scuffled with them and then tried to drive away in his car, deputies and witnesses said. At least one agent opened fire. FBI officials said Monday they have not determined whether Arnold was armed.

He died at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo.

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Arnold had been a police officer for 11 years when, last December, he pleaded guilty to embezzling money from the Fountain Valley police union, of which he was president. He was sentenced to six months of home confinement and fired. Married and the father of four children, he had been selling Amway recently, neighbors said.

The shooting occurred a block from Trabuco Hills High School and Marguerite Parkway, one of the busiest intersections in the city. Afterward, FBI agents gathered about 15 witnesses and took them to the high school for questioning.

Morley said “the details are not completely clear at this point” as to why the agents, who had had Arnold under surveillance, chose to attempt his arrest in a shopping center parking lot.

“All we know right now is that there was a confrontation that he initiated,” Morley said.

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Witnesses said they saw Arnold, who was shirtless, scuffling with two undercover agents, and that he managed to escape briefly before words were exchanged and he was shot. There were conflicting accounts from witnesses and police about how many times Arnold was shot and whether both agents fired their weapons.

One agent standing outside the driver’s door window definitely pointed his handgun at Arnold and fired, witnesses said.

“The guy shot him point blank,” said Josh Hollar, 16, of Mission Viejo, who works at the East Coast Bagel Co. in the plaza and was standing outside a florist shop when the shooting occurred. “He was trying to back the car out. As soon as it happened, I ran inside and called police. It was pretty sad.”

Nancy Sandoval, 51, of Mission Viejo said she was leaving McDonald’s with her 6-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old granddaughter when she saw the fracas a few yards from her car.

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“All of a sudden these men were shoving and pushing each other,” Sandoval said. “I thought we better watch out, that looks like a fight. Then the one guy jumped into the blue car and was trying to get the key in the ignition or something.”

Sandoval said the man managed to start the car and back it up, but the two others had their guns pointed at him.

“They were saying something to him, I couldn’t hear,” Sandoval said. “Then I heard what I thought were two gunshots. Then the car went forward and crashed into the other parked car.”

Darcie Moylen, 17, of Mission Viejo was working behind the counter at the Juice Bar and saw the scuffle out the front window. She saw what turned out to be an FBI agent with a gun but didn’t hear the shots.

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“I saw these guys fighting, but I didn’t know what was going on,” Moylen said. “A guy jumped on one of the cops, and they were pushing each other and pulling at each others’ shirts. Then one guy got into the blue car and tried to get away. After he was shot, he was just leaning on the steering wheel.”

Raymond Rakitis, president of the Fountain Valley Police Assn. who worked with Arnold for 11 years, said Monday, “Oh Jesus, I saw the car [on television], but it never registered that it was his car. Jesus, Lord, he was pulling bank robberies. His head must have gone south.”

Rakitis remembered the former canine unit officer as a “damn good officer.”

“But I guess the stress got to him; it overloaded his circuits,” Rakitis said. “He started doing stupid things.”

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Arnold had paid back $10,000 to the police union before charges were filed against him, Rakitis said. He still owed the rest.

Arnold had received the Medal of Valor from the Fountain Valley Police Department for his actions in a controversial shootout in 1983 in which he shot a burglary suspect repeatedly after a foot chase.

The suspect, Michael Wayde Mohon, turned on Arnold and tried to take his gun away, police said at the time. A struggle ensued and shots were fired, one of which struck Arnold in the ear, police said. Arnold then shot Mohon five times with another weapon, police said.

While at UCI Medical Center in Orange for physical therapy in 1985, Mohon escaped, apparently with the aid of a friend, and both were armed at the time. After being portrayed on national television shows like “America’s Most Wanted” and “Unsolved Mysteries,” Mohon was finally arrested in Alabama in 1989 and was returned to Orange County. He is now serving his sentence.

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Charges of attempted murder of a police officer were dropped due to insufficient evidence, according to court records.

After Mohon’s escape and before his re-arrest, Arnold received death threats, his attorney John D. Barnett said.

“I know the stress on the job, the shootings, the threats to kill him, all took a terrible toll on him,” Barnett said. Law enforcement’s life-and-death situations are akin to war, something that most civilians know nothing about, he said.

“They’re so much closer to their own mortality, to death, and that takes something out of them. The ability to cope just gets used up, the glue that holds human beings together just gets used up,” he said.

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But Barnett said bank robbery, a confrontational crime, was “certainly not consistent with his background” and was unlike embezzlement, a nonviolent property crime.

“He was very remorseful about the embezzlement and was serious about working and making restitution,” Barnett said.

Andy Rubly, who lives two doors down from Arnold described him as a “very, very friendly neighbor whom you would like instantly.”

Rubly, 74, last saw Arnold about noon Monday as the former officer was helping his oldest child, a 13-year-boy, mow a neighbor’s yard.

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“He was a very good father. Recently, he had been home with his children a lot,” Rubly said.

Pat Kraintz, who helped organize a block party for Arnold “to cheer him up” following his conviction and job loss last year, said, “It’s hard to believe that he would do this. I feel bad for the children. Kathleen [Arnold’s wife] will survive. I worry about the children.”

Kraintz said Arnold had been working on improvements around the house since his firing, including building a new walkway. Neighbors contributed bricks and cement for that project, she said.

Times staff writer Rene Lynch contributed to this story.

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