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Oceanside police deny favoritism

Department's probe into the shooting of a woman and child by an off-duty San Diego officer is criticized.

March 28, 2008|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

OCEANSIDE, CALIF. — The Oceanside Police Department on Thursday defended its investigation into an incident in which an off-duty San Diego police officer shot a woman and her 8-year-old son after a traffic altercation.

Oceanside Police Capt. Tom Aguigui said investigators are still trying to figure out what led Officer Frank White to fire five shots at Oceanside resident Rachel Silva's car in a mall parking lot.

White was not arrested or tested for drugs or alcohol. But he was questioned after the shooting, which occurred about 9:15 p.m. on March 15.

A supervisor from the San Diego Police Department, a lawyer provided by the Police Officers Assn. and a "peer support" representative from the department were with White during the questioning.

White has been put on paid administrative leave.

White's wife, a Carlsbad police dispatcher, was with him in the car when the shooting occurred, and has been interviewed by police.

Silva, 27, has refused to be interviewed by police.

After she was treated at a hospital for her wounds, police required her to take a blood test. The results have not been released.

Silva was driving on a suspended license and had two drunk-driving convictions, according to court records. Aguigui said police had probable cause to order Silva's blood drawn, but none to make a similar decision involving White. He said San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne was briefed about the incident as a courtesy to a fellow police department, but no similar briefing has been given to Silva's attorneys.

On the night of March 15, both White and Silva called 911 for help.

Aguigui would not describe the traffic incident or say whether White believed that his life was in danger.

Silva was struck twice in the arm; her son, Johnny, was struck once in the leg. Silva's ex-husband, a Marine serving in Iraq, has been given emergency leave to be with his son.

Aguigui said four bullet holes were found in the windshield of Silva's car and one in the front passenger's window. The driver's window of White's vehicle was shattered.

But Aguigui declined to describe the relative location of the two cars when the shooting occurred.

He said he could not estimate when the case would be taken to the district attorney for a decision on what, if any, charges would be filed.

Silva, who is being represented by civil rights attorney Eugene Iredale, filed a claim Wednesday with the city of San Diego for unspecified damages. The claim alleges that White, 28, who has been an officer for two years, is "manifestly unsuited" for his job and that Oceanside police are showing favoritism toward a fellow officer.

The claim also asserts that the San Diego department has been negligent in not testing its officers periodically to discover "rage tendencies."

"It seems to me the temperament shown -- the rage -- is the kind we do not want in a police officer allowed to carry a firearm," Iredale said.

Lansdowne, in a telephone interview, said that all officer candidates are given a thorough psychological screening before being hired.

He said that the department has psychological services available for officers and that they can either ask for help or be referred by their supervisors.

"We have a very good system," he said.

If her claim is rejected, Silva will be able to file a lawsuit.

At the sometimes combative Oceanside news conference Thursday, Aguigui denied suggestions of favoritism toward White.

"We are doing our best to do a very fair and complete investigation," he said.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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