Investigations Closed on Inmate Death and Officer-Involved Shooting in Orange County

December 2, 2020 Updated: December 2, 2020

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has ended two investigations relating to an inmate’s unexpected death and an officer-involved shooting. 

Theo Lacy Jail Facility prisoner Guillermo Antonio Lopez died in hospital March 23, 2020, after falling from his upper-bunk bed. 

Lopez, 43, was serving a 180-day sentence at the Orange, California, jail, according to a public letter sent to Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes by the Office of The Orange County District Attorney (OCDA).

Lopez previously pleaded guilty to driving under the influence, providing false identification to a police officer, and driving with a suspended license. 

On March 14—a day after he began his sentenceLopez lost his footing when falling from his bed, which caused him to fall on his back. The letter noted that “three deputies immediately checked on his welfare” and he was evaluated by medical staff, where it was discovered he suffered a contusion, but was cleared to return to regular housing. 

During the next few days, he was evaluated by medical staff, and he denied any chest pain, shortness of breath, headaches, or dizziness. 

On March 20, Lopez had a temperature of 104.7 degrees Fahrenheit and complained of body aches, runny nose, headache, nausea, and a cough, the letter stated. The following day, he tested positive for Influenza A, and medical staff ensured his body was hydrated, the letter said. 

On March 23, video surveillance showed Lopez appearing unstable at various times in the facility, and even falling as he tried to grab onto a table. Deputies summoned medical aid by Orange County Fire Authority paramedics, but his medical transportation to the emergency room was cancelled because he was not in critical condition. 

Later that day, deputies transported Lopez to a hospital, where he began to suffer shortness of breath and had a fever. He also began to hallucinate. About 7:55 p.m., he went into cardiopulmonary arrest and could not be resuscitated. He was pronounced dead at 8:25 p.m. 

According to the autopsy, Lopez had abbesses to his left lung and a lung infection. He also had an enlarged heart and a “suspicious bruising to his left wrist and lower extremities,” the report said. 

Lopez’ official cause of death was “complications of pneumonia,” but other conditions were present, including: hypertensive cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis associated with chronic alcohol abuse, and a history of having the flu.

According to the legal analysis of OCDA’s letter, there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) employees, nor by jail inmates. 

The letter states: “The evidence supports a conclusion that OCSD personnel conducted their duties in a reasonable manner and responded effectively and appropriately upon discovery of Lopez’ situation.”

Officer-Involved Shooting

The second closed investigation regarded an officer-involved shooting in La Habra on Sept. 26, 2019. 

It happened about 2:37 a.m. after police responded to a report of thieves taking apart a car in the area of 200 South Alpine Street, according to a public letter sent to La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price by the OCDA. 

After arriving at the scene, police repeatedly asked a man, later identified as Randolph Valendino Aguirre, 29, to step out of his car, the letter said.

According to the letter, Aguirre did not comply, and began moving his own car, crashing into nearby cars and objects, and making the three officersidentified as Sergeant Edward Torres and officers Jason Coleman and Cassandra Roblesfear he would hit them. 

Aguirre made threatening remarks throughout the altercation, flashed gang signs, and stuck his hand out the window at officers to simulate shooting them, according to the letter. 

Coleman saw Aguirre raise his right hand in the passenger window, and “come up in a shooting position as if he were going to shoot … out the window at my partner,” the letter quotes Coleman as saying. It noted that he was told Aguirre had a gun. 

Torres was positioned in Aguirre’s “clear line of sight” to shoot, which prompted Coleman to fire at Aguirre to “prevent him from killing my sergeant.” When Coleman fired, Torres also fired at Aguirre. They stopped when the vehicle Aguirre was in stopped moving. 

Robles also attempted to fire, but her gun jammed. 

The autopsy confirmed that Aguirre died of  gunshot wounds to the skull, back, and abdomen. 

The OCDA’s investigation concluded with no criminal charges filed against any of the police officers. 

It stated: “Based on the totality of all the available evidence, it is our conclusion that Sergeant Torres and Officer Coleman were justified in believing that Aguirre posed a significant threat of death of serious physical injury to himself or others.”

The letter did note that Torres and Robles decided not to give voluntary statements to the OCDA, which they described as “unfortunate and regrettable.”

The Epoch Times spoke with OCSD public information officer Sgt. Dennis Breckner regarding the outcomes.

“We count on [the DA’s office] to be an independent investigation. We conduct our own internal investigation, of course, any time incidents occur. And we count on them to do their part as an independent investigation,” Breckner said. “Like any other agency, we work with the DA’s office regularly and again count on them to do their job.”

He added: “We have a working relationship with the DA’s office, but they independently investigate certain things, one of them being officer-involved shootings for our agency, and in-custody deaths. They’re an independent team of investigators that are beholden to the voters and to the people of Orange County.”

Follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewVanVoorhis