Charges were dismissed Friday against a 36-year-old man who was accused of grabbing a Garden Grove police gun while in custody in a squad car and firing it.
The charges against Stephen Eric Matthews of Garden Grove were dropped because he had completed a court-supervised mental health diversion program, according to court records.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Lance Jensen approved dismissal of several felony charges against Matthews after reading progress reports from the mental health programs he participated in, according to court records.
Matthews was ordered to participate in the mental health diversion program in April 2019.
The charges that were dropped were felony counts of assault with a firearm on a peace officer, shooting from a motor vehicle, discharging a firearm with gross negligence, unlawful possession of a firearm in public and vandalism with over $400 in damage, and a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest, according to court records.
Matthews could have faced up to 10 years and four months in prison if convicted at trial, prosecutors said when he was charged in February 2018.
An Orange County Mental Health worker on Feb. 13, 2018, called police to the area of 13th and Brookhurst streets where a patient staying at Morningside Recovery, a drug and alcohol treatment facility, was acting psychotic, Garden Grove Police Department Lt. Carl Whitney said at the time of his arrest.
Officers arrived around 9:25 p.m. and were asked to stand by as the worker conducted an evaluation, Whitney said.
The worker determined the man needed to go to another facility for further evaluation and officers had the man wait in a police car until an ambulance arrived. The man was not under arrest and was not handcuffed, Whitney said.
While in the back of a police car, the man gained access to the front of the cruiser where he took possession of a semiautomatic patrol rifle, Whitney said.
“Officers realized the male was now holding the rifle and ordered him to put it down,” Whitney said.
The man fired one shot, which went through the windshield, prompting officers to evacuate the area and call SWAT officers to the scene. No injuries were reported and officers did not return fire, Whitney said.
After several hours of negotiation, the suspect surrendered at 12:41 a.m. on Feb. 14, 2018, and was taken into custody, Whitney said.
“The plexi-glass partition separating the front portion of the police car from the rear was defective,” Whitney said.
“The locking mechanism failed and this allowed Matthews to reach into the front portion of the police car. Mathews was able to disengage the rifle from its locked position in the front passenger compartment.”
The cruiser was inspected “and corrective measures have been taken, including a review of (department) policies and procedures,” Whitney said.