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O.C. Officer Faces Probe in Firing of Gun

The Region

Santa Ana policeman and prosecutors were returning from a Staples Center concert when he allegedly discharged the weapon from their SUV.

June 14, 2003|H.G. Reza and Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writers

A Santa Ana police officer is under criminal and internal investigation for allegedly firing his gun on the freeway while returning from a concert at Staples Center with a group of Orange County prosecutors.

Officer Derrick Watkins, a gang investigator, is suspected of firing a handgun from a vehicle on the Gardena Freeway near Acacia Avenue in Compton. Santa Ana Police Capt. Bruce Carlson said the May 21 incident occurred at 12:30 a.m., and one witness said it followed a night of drinking at a concert featuring the bands Journey, Styx and REO Speedwagon.

Watkins was in a sport utility vehicle carrying four Orange County prosecutors, a second Santa Ana officer, a criminal defense attorney and the wife of a prosecutor.

It is not clear who reported the shooting. Carlson would say only that "the incident was brought to our attention and then to the Los Angeles County sheriff."

The sheriff is handling the criminal investigation and Santa Ana police internal affairs officers are investigating possible misconduct. Carlson said the other Santa Ana officer in the SUV is not under investigation.

In California, it is illegal to discharge a firearm in a grossly negligent manner that could result in injury or death, and for the driver of a car to allow a passenger to discharge a weapon. Both crimes can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or felony, each carrying a penalty of up to three years in prison.

In the Orange County public defender's office, word of the investigation spread rapidly Friday. Several defense lawyers said they thought it was ironic because gang prosecutors often file charges against gang members simply because they were in a car when another person fired a gun.

"What this whole situation shows is what we know from our own practice: Sometimes people can get drunk and do stupid things," said Orange County Deputy Public Defender Denise Gragg.

"Sometimes people are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it doesn't mean that they're bad people and it doesn't mean that their lives should be destroyed."

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Times staff writer Stuart Pfeifer contributed to this report.

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