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Family of Black man shot dead by Orange County sheriff’s deputies sues

Kurt Reinhold at Kenneth Hahn soccer fields during an AYSO match in Ladera, Nov. 25, 2018.
Kurt Reinhold at Kenneth Hahn soccer fields during an AYSO match in Ladera, Nov. 25, 2018. Reinhold was shot and killed by two O.C. sheriff’s deputies in San Clemente this past September.
(Michelle Maltais)

The family of a Black man shot dead by an Orange County sheriff’s deputy in San Clemente in an encounter captured on video sued the county on Thursday, alleging the death was a result of a homeless detail that disproportionately targets people of color and is ill-equipped to deal with mental illness.

Kurt Andras Reinhold, a well-educated, youth soccer coach and father of two, died Sept. 23 after two deputies approached him on as he walked in a San Clemente street, tried to stop him, tackled him to the ground and then one of them shot him twice. A bystander captured on a cellphone video the deadly encounter, which spurred protests and arrests of activists.

The lawsuit on behalf of his wife, Latoya Reinhold, his children and his mother, Judy Reinhold Tucker, accuses the deputies of using deadly force on an unarmed man who “never posed an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury,” and that Reinhold, who been sleeping outside in the area, was harassed by the deputies.

“The Reinhold family is frustrated by the department’s complete lack of transparency,” said John Taylor, lead attorney for the family. “The department and Sheriff Don 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.”

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Barnes, in the wake of the shooting, produced a grainy still shot from a security camera on a nearby building that he said showed Reinhold trying to unholster one of the deputies’ guns before the shots were fired. Calling it a tragedy, he asked people to “reserve judgment until a full and complete investigation has been completed by the Orange County district attorney’s office.”

The video recording shows two deputies confronting Reinhold at about 1:15 p.m. in the middle of El Camino Real, not far from Hotel Miramar. In the video, the deputies tell Reinhold he is walking in the middle of the street. “Stop touching me,” Reinhold tells them repeatedly.

“Go sit down,” one deputy tells him. But the agitated man appears to ignore the deputy and tries to walk past them. The deputies wrestle him to the ground. Reinhold wriggles as they try to restrain his arms. Then a voice shouts: “He’s got my gun! He’s got my gun!”

Two shots ring out. There is not enough detail in the video to tell whether Reinhold grabbed the weapon. Orange County sheriff’s deputies do not wear body cameras. “Oh, my God,” says the bystander who was recording the altercation.

The lawsuit filed Thursday noted that as the encounter began a deputy already had his stun gun drawn and the deputies were raising their voices and “closing space” before ultimately tackling Reinhold. The suit alleges the deputies were not adequately trained in deescalating situations and that led to a violation of Reinhold’s constitutional rights.

“One thing is clear: the deputies who shot and killed Kurt did exactly the opposite of what well-trained officers are expected to do. Instead of deescalating the situation, these deputies clearly escalated — by having a taser drawn, tackling Kurt, and then shooting and killing him,” said attorney Neil Gehlawat, who is also litigating the case.

“This is happening in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis by police. He is a Black man being approached by deputies with a weapon drawn and he is trying to avoid being harmed,” Gehlawat said. “He is one step away from the curb when they start shoving him for jaywalking. If Kurt Reinhold was white, this never happens.”

As to the gun touch defense, Taylor said Barnes is trying to alter the narrative and putting an image out of context to try to justify the deputies’ actions. The attorneys said a deputy had Reinhold in a headlock and that the Los Angeles man was flailing his arms.

The department, in a response to a Times public records request, identified the deputies as Eduardo Duran and Jonathan Israel, two homeless services deputies assigned to the city.

Department spokeswoman Carrie Braun said she did not know what caused the deputies to approach Reinhold, who had been in San Clemente for about a month before he was shot to death. During that time, Braun said, the deputies had spoken to him at least twice, in part about trespassing. Reinhold had never been cited or arrested in San Clemente, Braun said. None of the interactions had been combative.

The shooting echoes the 2015 death of a Black man named Charly “Africa” Keunang, who was mentally ill and homeless. Keunang was shot to death by Los Angeles Police Department officers in broad daylight on skid row.

In that case, one officer, a rookie, shouted that the homeless man had his gun. Keunang allegedly grabbed it as the officer knelt on his chest and pummeled him. The Los Angeles County district attorney declined to prosecute the two officers, saying the dead man had had his fingers around the weapon.


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