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FROM CANYON TO COVE: Inside a tragic police shooting

I almost got pinched at the Laguna Beach Police Department on Tuesday. Seriously, I had to show that I was wearing green for St. Patrick’s Day to avoid “the long arm of the law.” It was all in good fun, of course.

I’ve covered a few police agencies in my day, and I’ve never seen as friendly and jolly a bunch as in Laguna Beach. Maybe it’s because they report to work just two blocks from the ocean and cruise some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth on their daily rounds.

Maybe it’s the laid-back atmosphere of a beachy, artsy town where folks call the police to report everything from a stranded sea lion to a baby hummingbird fallen out of its nest — and the police actually respond.

But that’s not to say that serious incidents don’t happen here.

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Take the case of Kevin and Joni Park, a Mission Viejo couple who checked into the Montage Resort & Spa with their kids and dog for a seemingly harmless weekend of pampered pleasure in April 2007, only to end up shot and killed by Laguna police officers.

The police shooting happened after Joni Park — by some accounts naked — was alleged to be waving a gun at people in the Treasure Island Park near the hotel, and threatening to shoot.

When officers responded, Joni Park retreated into her ocean-view room, where she and her husband were allegedly passing the gun back and forth between them as police looked in, ordering them to drop the weapon and come out.

Tragically — and it was as tragic for the officers as it was for the Park family — the couple ended up getting shot and killed at the hands of police. Police logs on that day showed that Kevin Park had actually been on the phone with a police dispatcher after calling 911 to say that everything was all right.

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But everything was not all right: That call was moments before the fatal shots.

Now some documents from the investigation into that fatal day — April 22, 2007 — have been released by the Laguna Beach Police Department, and we are getting a close-up look at how the incident unfolded.

The Parks, according to statements from family members and others who knew them, were embroiled in a family dispute over a large inheritance and had called the Orange County Sheriff just two days earlier, on April 20, telling authorities that “if something happens to them” certain people might be involved.

Then they checked into the Montage under an assumed name with their kids, a dog, and boxes of personal and business files.

They seemed to have believed they were being spied on, and that paranoia may have escalated at the hotel. The couple also weren’t sleeping, according to one of their children.

The hotel room contained a laptop computer, printer and files containing many of the couple’s important personal documents, including bank statements, canceled checks, family photographs, birth certificates, and jewelry, according to the reports.

They also had a gun, which had been purchased by them after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, according to a witness.

Most poignant are the accounts of the Park children, who were present at or near the hotel room during the incident. Hotel staff took charge of two of the children, taking them to a relative’s home for safety, and even buying one of them a pair of shoes.

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According to the reports, the FBI seized files and the computer on May 2, but returned them to the family by May 14. (It is somewhat chilling to read in these reports that Joni Park had told people she believed the FBI had the couple under surveillance, a claim discounted by those to whom she told it.)

Because it was a police shooting, the officers were also investigated, and the digital recorders they carry to record their day-to-day interactions were taken into custody, along with their weapons.

They were also interviewed, but their statements were not released.

The officers who fired into the hotel room were cleared of any wrongdoing by the district attorney, and a subsequent lawsuit filed by the couple’s heirs has been voluntarily dismissed, according to City Manager Ken Frank.

While the tragic incident has been pronounced “concluded” by city officials, it is unlikely to be concluded in the minds of the Park family — or in the minds of the officers who fired weapons into the couple’s hotel room that day.


CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 380-4321 or cindy.frazier@latimes.com.


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