“There is substantial evidence that [Duran’s] actions were reasonable and justified under the circumstances when he shot and killed Reinhold on Sept. 23, 2020,” Assistant District Attorney Stephen McGreevy wrote in the letter dated Feb. 7.
Reinhold’s family has disputed the law enforcement account of the incident, which was partially captured at a distance with dash-cam video and later eyewitness video, as deputies with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department did not wear body cameras in 2020. Reinhold’s family, which has a wrongful death lawsuit pending against the county, allege Reinhold was targeted by deputies with a pretextual stop because he was Black.
The deputies, who prosecutors said cooperated with the investigation, have not faced discipline directly related to the shooting, according to the sheriff’s office.
Neither the Orange County Sheriff’s Office nor attorneys for Reinhold’s family immediately responded to requests for comment Saturday. In a statement released Friday by their attorneys, the family said the district attorney’s decision was disappointing but not unexpected and disputed the independence of the prosecutor’s investigation.
“This was a racially motivated stop aimed at harassing Mr. Reinhold, nothing more,” the statement said, according to the Orange County Register. “The deputies’ escalating tactics — including having a Taser drawn and tackling Mr. Reinhold to the ground — directly contributed to the deputies’ unlawful use of deadly force against a man who was unarmed and had not committed a crime.”
Both Israel and Duran, who were eight- and 13-year veterans, respectively, worked as homeless liaison officers for the sheriff’s department and had encountered Reinhold the day before the shooting. When they spotted him the following afternoon, the deputies parked their vehicle to observe him until Israel saw Reinhold cross the street against a red-hand signal for pedestrian traffic, according to the prosecutor’s report.
The deputies are heard on dash-cam video briefly debating whether Reinhold committed an offense. Duran, who did not see the alleged violation, is heard saying, “Don’t make case law,” a reference made to Israel in an apparent warning to ensure there was probable cause to stop Reinhold.
Over the next roughly 2½ minutes, audio and partial video of the scene captures the deputies asking Reinhold if he’s going to stop, or “Are we gonna make you stop?” When Reinhold asks why he’s being stopped, a deputy replies “for jaywalking.” Reinhold, who disagreed that he was jaywalking, is seen trying to move away from the deputies, swatting their hands away as they approach him.
The scene escalates as the deputies try to grab Reinhold’s backpack to force him into place. Officials say Reinhold shoved a deputy, which devolved into a struggle on the ground that is captured on a bystander’s video and later released through the sheriff’s department. Eventually, Israel is heard repeatedly yelling, “He’s got my gun!” Duran fires one shot, but the struggle appears to continue, prompting Israel to yell, “Shoot him!” before Duran fires a second, final shot.
News of Reinhold’s death was largely overshadowed by an announcement the same day that a Louisville grand jury declined to bring homicide charges against the police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor.
Locally, Reinhold’s shooting drew protests in San Clemente, an affluent enclave halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. Some demonstrators in the county said Reinhold was a victim of over-policing by Orange County deputies who disproportionately targeted homeless people.
California has struggled for decades with acute homelessness, but residents, lawmakers, police and social justice advocates are increasingly at odds over how to handle an escalating crisis that has only worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.
Alex Piquero, a criminologist at the University of Miami who has written about policing and homelessness, told The Washington Post that officers are challenged with making “heat of the moment” decisions and are often dispatched to deal with crises like homelessness or mental health issues they may be ill-equipped for.
“It’s unfortunate that someone who is jaywalking ends up dead,” he said. “When you think about use-of-force cases, you want to hope that [police] are using it as a last resort.”
Reinhold was married with two young children and struggled with schizoaffective disorder — sometimes going off his medication and drifting between staying with his wife and his mother — Neil Gehlawat, an attorney for the family, told the Los Angeles Times in 2020.
Reinhold was described in his family’s lawsuit as a loving husband and father who coached his children’s sports teams and helped with their school activities and homework. Reinhold was also close to his mother, living with her at various times and taking her to doctor’s visits.
Piquero said Reinhold’s tragic death highlights the importance of addressing vulnerable homeless populations, which are only growing.
“There are a lot of homeless people in America, and Orange County isn’t immune from that,” Piquero said. “The issues are real in big cities right now, and it’s a problem we need to get our heads around so we don’t have these outcomes.”