Graphic videos of an encounter between police officers in Buena Park, California, and a car thief were released Wednesday by the Orange County District Attorney (DA) Todd Spitzer’s office after an investigation cleared the officers.
The video was released after a months-long investigation into the officers’ actions, an investigation that found the officers did nothing improper during the encounter.
The incident occurred on August 19 of last year when Buena Park Police Department Officers Bobby Colon and Jennifer Tran pulled over 18-year-old David Patrick Sullivan, who was driving a black SUV in the city of Fullerton.
Hours before, Sullivan had stolen money, merchandise, and a customer’s car from the gas station at which he worked. The officers pulled Sullivan over when Colon saw that the tag on Sullivan’s vehicle was expired. The officers were unaware of his earlier crimes when they moved to cite him for the expired sticker.
The police dashboard and body camera videos show the officers performing a routine traffic stop as they quizzed the driver on his tags, asked for his license, and the like. Sullivan started the encounter calmly responding to the officers. As the video continues, it shows the officers returning to their vehicle to run the car’s plates. Soon enough they learned that the vehicle did not belong to Sullivan and had been reported stolen that morning.
The officers called for backup, and dispatchers told them two more cruisers would be arriving to assist. But Sullivan did not wait for more police to arrive.
When Colon and Tran approached the vehicle, Sullivan opened the driver’s side door, but instead of exiting the car, yelling “fuck you,” he started the car, put it in reverse, rammed past the officers’ cruiser, and smashed into a tree and a parked car a few yards away. The wide-open car door nearly hit officer Colon as Sullivan gunned the engine and sent the SUV hurtling in reverse.
As seen in the video, a screaming Sullivan then charged at the officers before Colon fired his service weapon two times from about six feet away. The offender showed no signs of reaction to the bullets and continued his belligerent responses. Colon fired a third time, and Tran fired twice when Sullivan again moved toward them. Finally, Sullivan slowly crumpled to the ground.
***GRAPHIC WARNING*** Watch:
The suspect died of his wounds at the scene.
An investigation by the Orange County DA’s office cleared the officers. In a report written on June 8 but only just released, the DA’s office concludes that “it is our legal opinion that there is a lack of sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any criminal culpability on the part of Officers Colon and Tran.”
On the other hand, the DA added, “there is substantial evidence that their actions were reasonable and justified under the circumstances when they shot and killed Sullivan on August 19, 2019.”
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