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California

Police shoot and wound homeless man during struggle outside Santa Ana Civic Center

Police shot and critically wounded a homeless man Monday during a confrontation outside the Santa Ana Civic Center, authorities said.

The gunfire erupted about 9:30 a.m. near the Plaza of the Flags in the 600 block of North Ross Street, between the courthouse and City Hall, Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.

Two officers assigned to the Civic Center Patrol Unit made contact with the man, who became hostile. The encounter escalated to a physical fight, and when the man tried to grab an officer’s gun, the other officer opened fire, Bertagna said.

The man, identified as Richard Gene Swihart, 32, was struck at least twice by bullets to the upper torso. Swihart was homeless, and the shooting occurred near a homeless encampment in the Civic Center. 

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Paramedics rushed Swihart to Orange County Global Medical Center, where he underwent surgery and remains in critical condition, police said.

One of the officers had bruises and abrasions from the scuffle but did not require medical attention. The other officer was not injured. Neither wore body cameras, which the Santa Ana Police Department is in the process of implementing, Bertagna said.

The shooting of a transient comes amid a roiling debate about the presence of homeless people outside the Civic Center.

Alan Carlson, chief executive of the Orange County Superior Court, has repeatedly complained to city and county officials about the encampments, saying employees felt endangered and that jurors were asking to serve in other courthouses because of them.

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In a May letter to the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Santa Ana City Council and other officials, Carlson said that the homeless population “just outside the courthouse doors has dramatically increased” in recent months.

“If this problem continues to expand, it may further impact our ability to attract sufficient jurors and qualified employees to the Central Justice Center and to protect the safety and health of those with business in the courthouse,” Carlson wrote.

One Saturday, Carlson wrote, plumbers were doing repairs outside the courthouse “when they were attacked by several rock-throwing homeless individuals. The plumbers were forced to abandon the job, and they subsequently refused to return to the court to finish their work.”

Carlson said he understood that it was “an extremely complex problem with no easy solution” and that he was not the first to bring the issue to officials’ attention.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

Twitter: @haileybranson

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UPDATES:

7:50 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the shooting.

This article was originally published at 11:40 a.m.


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