SANTA ANA — A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy has been charged with assault for allegedly chasing down a Costa Mesa man and shooting him after the two men were involved in a traffic accident.
Gregory Cook, 40, faces a maximum 12-year prison term if he is convicted of the charge filed against him Tuesday by the Orange County district attorney's office.
Cook was charged with one count of assault, along with two special allegations of using a firearm and inflicting great bodily injury, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Clyde Von Der Ahe. Assault carries a maximum four-year term, but the special allegations increase the possible penalty to 12 years, Von Der Ahe said.
Cook, who became a sheriff's deputy in 1977, had been working as a court bailiff in a downtown Los Angeles courthouse until recently, but he was reassigned to an administration job pending the outcome of the criminal case against him, said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Katie Campbell.
The charges against Cook spring from an incident on the evening of April 28, a Saturday, when he was off duty and riding a motorcycle in Long Beach. Reginald Lamont Payne of Costa Mesa was driving a car on Westminster Avenue near Studebaker Road when he hit the back of Cook's motorcycle.
Payne's lawyer, Gregory Silver, said Cook swung into Payne's lane suddenly and Payne swerved to avoid him, but he still clipped Cook's motorcycle.
Angry, Cook pulled up alongside Payne at a traffic light and shouted a racial epithet, then screamed that he was a police officer and that he had a gun but displayed no police identification, Silver said.
When Cook reached into his left jacket pocket, Payne became frightened and took off, triggering a chase into Seal Beach, Silver said.
Thinking that maybe Cook really was a police officer, Payne slowed down and pulled into a lighted parking lot at the Rockwell International complex on Seal Beach Boulevard, Silver said. When Cook caught up to him, Payne asked how he could be sure Cook was an officer, but Cook shoved him against his car and screamed at him, Silver said.
Payne broke free and began running, with Cook in pursuit on his motorcycle, Silver said. A Rockwell security guard saw Cook chasing Payne on his cycle with his revolver drawn and heard him fire five shots, Silver said. As Payne tried to climb a fence, Cook fired, hitting Payne in the foot and the leg.
Silver said Cook's conduct violates Sheriff's Department policy, which forbids use of a firearm when stopping someone for a misdemeanor charge. He said the clash demonstrates that Cook is unsuitable for police work.
"What we had here was a minor traffic incident which unfortunately escalated into what could have been a fatal shooting, all as a result of an individual who never should have been carrying a gun in the first place," Silver said.
Silver said he plans to file a federal lawsuit against Cook, Los Angeles County, the Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Sherman Block, alleging assault and battery, negligence and deprivation of Payne's civil rights.