The family of a transient fatally shot by Orange County sheriff’s deputies in San Clemente filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the county Thursday.
The family of 42-year-old Kurt Andras Reinhold alleges that deputies violated his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights and were guilty of negligence.
Reinhold was shot Sept. 23 during a struggle with two deputies outside of the Hotel Miramar at El Camino Real and Avenida San Gabriel. Reinhold, who was unarmed, was shot twice about 10 a.m. after he was approached by the deputies, who were part of a homeless outreach team.
It remains unclear why the deputies contacted him, according to the family’s attorney Neil Gehlawat. Reinhold, who had been diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, was jaywalking across a street and was almost to the other side when they pushed him back to the other side, he said.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said at a news conference after the shooting it appeared Reinhold attempted to grab a weapon from one of the deputies. The sheriff added that one of the two deputies was heard saying, “He’s got my gun.”
Gehlawat dismissed that scenario.
“I think it’s an attempt from the sheriff’s office to frame the narrative in a way to justify the shooting,” Gehlawat told City News Service. “They freeze-framed a part of where it appears his hand is in that location, but if you watch the video all the way through, you can’t look at it in a vacuum. It’s much more fluid and I think his hand is in that position because he was in a headlock and in the deputy’s stomach and was attempting to push away from the deputy because he was having trouble breathing.”
He said Reinhold was prone to wandering around the state, sometimes in the Bay Area, and for an unknown reason ended up in San Clemente.
“He would travel out on his own, and for a period of time he would be in the Bay Area and roam around up there, and family helped bring him back down (to Los Angeles County) and he found himself down in Orange County,” Gehlawat said.
Reinhold was known by merchants and residents in the San Clemente area, he said.
“No one had a single bad thing to say about him,” the attorney said. “They said there were times he was hungry and wanted something to eat or drink and they were happy to help him. He was never disrespectful, never shoplifting or threatening, always kind.”
Just before the shooting, he begged for some food in the area, the attorney said.
“All we know is Mr. Reinhold was in one of the stores nearby where he asked for food to eat and people said he was totally fine, not being disruptive or abrasive in any way. He got some peanuts and a drink and was on his way, so it caught all those business owners by surprise that a man who was calm in their presence a few moments earlier was being taken to the ground by these police officers,” Gehlawat said.
The attorney faulted the department for not properly training its deputies to handle the mentally ill.
“We’ve heard from sources and workers who work with the officers that times when they would interact with them, they were often disturbed how these deputies tended to interact with homeless people,” Gehlawat said.
Although the idea of a homeless outreach task force “sounds nice,” Gehlawat said, “it’s just an excuse for them to unreasonably detain people and harass them, and we think the statistics may bear out they’re doing it more frequently with people of color than folks who are not.”
Gehlawat said Reinhold, who was Black, must have been aware of the widespread protests triggered by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, as well as other fatal contacts with officers in other parts of the country.
“Of course, we can only imagine when an African-American sees an officer coming to approach them what goes through their mind,” Gehlawat said.
Reinhold must have been especially nervous because the officers approached him with a drawn stun gun, Gehlawat said. The attorney said some civilians have difficulty telling the difference between a Taser and a real gun.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Reinhold’s wife, Latoya, their son and daughter, ages 8 and 7, and his mother, Judy Reinhold-Tucker.
The names of the deputies were not included in the lawsuit because the county has yet to reveal them to the attorney, Gehlawat said.
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