An officer-involved shooting this week was Costa Mesa's second in a year, though such incidents are uncommon, authorities said.
The last one was in Fairview Park in August 2011, when an officer, after seeing a man in his car pull out a handgun, shot at him but missed. The man, who was homeless, instead shot and killed himself, according to Daily Pilot archives. The Orange County district attorney's office reviewed the case, but opted not to investigate further.
Before that, a Costa Mesa officer shot and killed one man and wounded another in 2009 when the two allegedly attacked him outside a restaurant in Temecula. Prosecutors did not charge the officer and he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
"Officer-involved shootings are rare events," said Police Chief Tom Gazsi.
The Orange County district attorney's office plans to investigate Thursday's nonfatal shooting outside the New Harbor Inn. Police said a suspect outside the Harbor Boulevard motel tried to ram a stolen truck into an officer's squad car around 6 a.m.. In response, the officer fired in self-defense, though it's unknown if the driver was hit.
The D.A.'s office normally investigates fatal shootings involving law enforcement or is brought in as an independent agency by request, according to spokeswoman Farrah Emami.
In the case of the motel shooting, the CMPD brought in the district attorney's office to investigate as an impartial third party.
"The department will often conduct a criminal, as well as an administrative, investigation for policy and procedure compliance and an analysis of the use of force," Gazsi said. "The district attorney's office conducts an independent, objective criminal investigation and analysis of significant use of force events to ensure objectivity and accountability for the community and the department."
This is the first time in 14 years the D.A. has been asked to review a CMPD shooting.
As of Saturday, the suspect who attempted to ram the officer's car is still on the lam and police are on the lookout for him.
He is described as a male Latino, between 19 and 24 years old, wearing a black sweatshirt, blue jeans and a black baseball cap.
A passenger in the truck surrendered at the scene and was taken into custody before being released, according to Sgt. Zack Hoferitza. Damages to the police car were moderate, according to Lt. Bob Ciszek.
"The violent assault on one of our officers is simply unacceptable," Gazsi said. "All leads in the investigation will vigorously continue until the suspect is identified and arrested. We're asking for the community's assistance in identifying the suspect from the photos provided to the press."
Anyone with information related to this case is encouraged to call Det. Jose Morales at (714) 754-5356.
Part of the typical police follow-up efforts involve reviewing possible evidence found in the truck and other leads, according to Lt. Rob Sharpnack.
Officers firing at vehicles can be controversial because bullets need to travel through glass or metal to strike their intended target, according to a 2010 article from Police Chief Magazine.
An accepted rule of thumb, according to the article, is that it takes .3 to .4 seconds to process and respond to a threat, and .6 to .8 seconds to quickly take two steps, depending on the officer and circumstances.
If an officer is 45 feet or closer to a moving car, it is likely the officer will be struck, according to the article.
"Even with a good sixth sense and a strong reaction time," the articles states, "even a well-trained officer will often lose to an approaching vehicle because the strong rule of science is action beats reaction."