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Family of man killed by Santa Ana police disputes city's explanation

Binh Van Nguyen's family says he was startled from sleep by officers who weren't in uniform, and that he couldn't have gunned his car at them because of how it was parked.

January 15, 2013|By Anh Do, Los Angeles Times
  • A neighbor watches as investigators search for clues at the scene of Friday's deadly officer-involved shooting in Santa Ana. The victim's family is disputing the official version of events leading to the shooting.
A neighbor watches as investigators search for clues at the scene of Friday's… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

The family of a man killed by police in Santa Ana disputed the official chain of events leading to his shooting, saying the 39-year-old had fallen asleep in his parked car and was startled when officers began banging on his vehicle.

The death of Binh Van Nguyen has stirred protests and rumors, fanned by coverage on Vietnamese radio and conversation at local coffeehouses.

In a public outreach effort Monday, Santa Ana city leaders — including Mayor Miguel Pulido and interim Police Chief Carlos Rojas — held a town hall meeting to respond to the rumors and offer reassurance that the shooting is being investigated.

"We hope to show the community we are listening," Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.

Police said they were forced to open fire with semiautomatic handguns when Nguyen tried to drive his white Toyota toward them in the early hours of last Friday.

Patrol officers cruising through a west Santa Ana neighborhood reported that they first spotted Nguyen sitting in the back seat of his parked car in the 200 block of Maxine Street. As two uniformed men approached, he jumped into the front seat, police said.

The officers said they asked him to exit the car, but instead he gunned it toward them, Bertagna said.

The area where the 12:45 a.m. incident unfolded is a haven for gang activity and drugs, police said.

But family members countered the official version of what happened.

"The crime scene photos show Binh's car in a stationary position curbside, with little or no room to maneuver," the Nguyens said in a statement released by their attorney, Michael Guisti.

The family asserted that the officers were not wearing uniforms and that Nguyen — startled from his sleep — had no way of knowing they were policemen.

"We are grief-stricken beyond words. Binh was a gentle and kind man with a warm personality," the family said.

Supporters staged a peaceful protest Sunday at the scene where Nguyen, who worked in a dry-cleaning shop, was shot. He is survived by his wife and two sons, ages 13 and 7.

"They need to show the greater community that this is a tragedy and police have questions to answer," Guisti said.

Both officers involved in the fatality, one a veteran and the other described as "experienced" but new to the department, are on leave but expected to return to duty.

Police found drug paraphernalia in Nguyen's car, Bertagna said.

anh.do@latimes.com

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