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Huntington Police Officer Is Cleared in Man’s Killing

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Calling it an “unfortunate incident,” prosecutors on Thursday cleared a Huntington Beach police officer of wrongdoing for fatally shooting a 77-year-old unarmed man while investigating a burglary call.

The Orange County district attorney’s office considered charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter but found the unidentified police officer committed neither when he shot Theodore Franks in the left leg Sept. 11.

Police stumbled upon Franks, who was living in a Huntington Beach warehouse to avoid a long commute, while investigating a silent alarm in the early morning hours.

“It’s obviously a very unfortunate incident,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Lew Rosenblum, who reviewed the case for the district attorney’s office. “Certainly Mr. Franks got caught in a situation unknown to him where the police were investigating a burglary. He was shot in the dark. It was very unfortunate for him and his family.”

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But family members were outraged by findings of the five-month joint investigation by the Sheriff’s Department and the district attorney, which routinely investigates officer-involved shootings.

“I don’t see how they couldn’t have done anything wrong when they killed an unarmed 77-year-old man in his pajamas,” said Franks’ son, Dennis Franks of Lake Havasu City, Ariz. “I think it’s ridiculous. I can’t believe it.”

Huntington Beach police expressed relief with Thursday’s decision.

“We felt all along this incident was a tragedy and our hearts went out to the Franks family for their loss,” said Lt. Dan Johnson of the Huntington Beach Police Department. “But we never felt like this was a criminal case.”

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The 32-year-old police officer involved in the shooting is still on paid leave, and officials are uncertain whether he will return to work. The officer had been with the department for seven years and spent three previous years with another law enforcement agency, police said.

Meanwhile, an attorney for the Franks family said Thursday a civil lawsuit against Huntington Beach will be filed within a few weeks. Franks, whose artery was hit in the shooting, bled to death.

“It’s absolutely ludicrous,” Newport Beach attorney Gary Kessler said. “Mr. Franks didn’t even have a parking ticket. He was essentially murdered.”

But the investigation found otherwise. Prosecutors said police had no way of knowing someone was living in the warehouse, which was not zoned for such use. The back door was slightly ajar, and they had called out several times as they moved through the warehouse, but no one ever responded, prosecutors said.

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“Under the given situation, a police officer was responding to a burglary call, looking into a darkened warehouse and was startled,” Rosenblum said. “I can’t say that was gross negligent conduct in firing one shot at the leg. Therefore, under the law, we did not feel there was sufficient evidence of second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter.”

Franks, a World War II veteran, had been an aerospace engineer for decades and had been staying in a makeshift apartment at Tolemar Manufacturing to avoid the long drive to his mobile home near Temecula.

Before his death, Franks was perfecting his latest engineering project--designing a way to keep aircraft from colliding with high-tension electrical wires.


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