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O.C. sheriff's deputy cleared in fatal shooting of unarmed Marine

Prosecutors say Darren Sandberg, a 15-year veteran of the department, acted reasonably when he shot Manuel Loggins Jr. in a school parking lot after he refused to follow the deputy's orders.

September 29, 2012|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
  • Marine Corps Sgt. Manuel Loggins Jr. was shot to death Feb. 7 in a parking lot at San Clemente High School. The Orange County sheriff's deputy who fired the fatal shots, Darren Sandberg, acted reasonably and with sufficient force given the circumstances, district attorney investigators said in clearing Sandberg in the case.
Marine Corps Sgt. Manuel Loggins Jr. was shot to death Feb. 7 in a parking… (U.S. Marine Corps )

An Orange County sheriff's deputy has been cleared in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Marine after investigators with the district attorney's office concluded he acted with appropriate force.

In a 13-page letter to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens released Friday, prosecutors said Deputy Darren Sandberg, a 15-year veteran of the department, acted reasonably and with sufficient force given the circumstances of the predawn incident in which Manuel Loggins Jr. was shot in a school parking lot after he refused to follow Sandberg's orders.

"Consequently, although this incident ended tragically, and in hindsight may have been preventable, we find there is insufficient evidence to prove that Deputy Sandberg's conduct violated criminal law," the prosecutors wrote.

Sandberg returned to work in March in a non-patrol assignment. The district attorney's investigation essentially closes a criminal inquiry, although a civil one is pending.

The shooting puzzled those close to Loggins, who remember the 31-year-old married father of three as a deeply religious career Marine and left them wondering why a military member would ignore the commands of a uniformed officer.

"It's usually hard to know what's in a person's mind," said Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Wagner. "This is no different."

Wagner and fellow prosecutor Susan Price said that shortly before 4:40 a.m. on Feb. 7, Loggins sped his SUV into a San Clemente High School parking lot and crashed into a gate, trapping part of it under his vehicle. His two young daughters were also in the car.

Sandberg, who was on patrol nearby, heard the crash. He drove to the lot and stopped behind Loggins' vehicle. Video from Sandberg's patrol car shows Loggins exiting his SUV and walking through a turnstile to a nearby athletic field. He was carrying a Bible; the family had recently begun going on prayer walks at the field.

"When Mr. Loggins exited the vehicle, he did so without checking on the welfare of the kids or talking to them about the collision that had just occurred," Price said.

Sandberg followed Loggins but then returned to check on the daughters. The video, which was not shown to the media, shows Sandberg having a brief conversation with the children, prosecutors said.

More deputies arrived, spoke to Sandberg and appeared to be looking in the direction of the field, according to the letter. At 4:46 a.m., an officer stated over the radio that Loggins was returning. Over the next 27 seconds, Sandberg repeatedly commanded Loggins to stop and said, "Show me your hands," and "Don't you get in the car or I'll shoot you."

Loggins ignored Sandberg and was heard saying, "I have somewhere to go" and "Give me my kids back." Another deputy said Loggins appeared stiff and had a "very determined and very mean" expression.

As the vehicle's rear lights illuminated, Sandberg shot three times in the direction of the lower right corner of the driver's window, striking Loggins in the left biceps, left finger and mid-left torso. He died at a hospital.

"There are a lot of points along the way where one could say, 'If this had happened,'" Wagner said.

Sandberg told investigators he didn't use a baton to subdue Loggins because he thought Loggins could overpower him. He could not use a Taser because he was not certified at that time and there wasn't another deputy present with one.

Wagner said the threat Sandberg faced was "instantaneous" and "immediate." Price added that Sandberg had a clear concern for the children in the back seat; he told investigators that he acted out of the belief that Loggins would cause harm to his daughters.

In witness statements, both of Loggins' daughters said he ran a red light before the crash. One said she heard her father mumbling after he drove into the parking lot. "I was afraid and I think the officer was too, so that's why he shot him, so we wouldn't get hurt," she said.

The children also told investigators that the family was fasting as part of a religious activity. One daughter said their father had gone "berserk" as a result, and had recently stopped taking Adderall, which had been prescribed to control his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

One of the children said their father had been acting erratically on the field the day before, at one point yelling: "Get away, Satan!"

Paul S. Meyer, Sandberg's criminal defense attorney, said that the investigation was "complete" and "exceptionally thorough."

"I think his letter speaks for itself," Meyer said.

Brian Dunn, the attorney for the Loggins family, said the evidence doesn't add up. Loggins' widow has filed a wrongful-death suit against Sandberg and the Sheriff's Department.

"Why did he draw a gun in the first place?" Dunn said of Sandberg's actions. "All you had was a man who disobeyed him."

He said there wasn't any evidence that Loggins had a weapon: "Ironically, the only thing that Mr. Loggins had was a Bible."

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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