police cruiser lights
A police cruiser. Photo by John Schreiber.

A man accused of kidnapping an ex-girlfriend, who gave birth to their son during her 11 days of alleged captivity, was arrested after leading Costa Mesa police on a wild pursuit in which he rammed two patrol cars, triggering an officer-involved shooting, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.

A defense attorney, however, contended that Juan Manuel Reyes, 36, is not guilty of most charges filed against him and that surveillance video of the officer-involved shooting has gone missing so police can justify “excessive force.”

Reyes’ trial on the kidnapping charges is pending, so jurors in the current trial will only hear evidence about the police pursuit in Costa Mesa, in which he is charged with two counts of assault with a weapon on a peace officer and one count of evading police with reckless driving, along with a misdemeanor count of hit-and-run with property damage.

A Costa Mesa officer on the lookout for Reyes, who had earlier eluded Santa Ana police in a pursuit, spotted him just before 5 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2012, at 3028 Coolidge Ave. The officer, who was in an unmarked car but was in uniform, saw Reyes behind the wheel of the girlfriend’s car and tried to get the defendant to pull over, but he hit the gas, triggering the pursuit, Deputy District Attorney Caroline Smith said.

With officers in two separate cars in pursuit, Reyes sped down Baker Street until he hit red-light traffic and turned into a Mobil gas station, Smith said.

One of the officers tried to block the driveway, but Reyes “veered” around him and then collided with the other officer’s car, the prosecutor said. Reyes did a “180 turn” and then slammed into the other officer’s car, she said.

When one of the officers got out of his car with his gun drawn and approached the suspect, he “accelerated” at the lawman, Smith said. The other officer saw Reyes make a “fist pump motion” through the defendant’s tinted window and, believing the suspect may be armed, fired three shots, striking the vehicle only, she said.

“Did that stop the defendant? No,” Smith said.

A woman who was pumping gas at the station witnessed everything but the shooting, which she heard, the prosecutor said.

“She thought the officers’ safety was jeopardized,” Smith said.

The pursuit continued through the city at speeds up to 80 mph, Smith said. At one point, when he got caught up in rush-hour congestion, the defendant squeezed his vehicle through traffic, sideswiping one woman’s car and breaking glass that injured her arm, Smith said.

Reyes also drove into oncoming traffic at Main Street and Red Hill Avenue and collided with one of the pursuing police cars, Smith said. The officer got out of his vehicle with his gun drawn, so Reyes “backed up and continued to evade,” Smith alleged.

The chase continued to Sunflower Avenue, where the car Reyes was driving broke down, Smith said, urging jurors to “hold him accountable for two separate assaults… when he used that car as a deadly weapon.”

Defense attorney Renee Garcia, in her opening statement, said, “Yes, he may be guilty of some crimes, but this case is over-filed.”

She said her client fled when one of the officers opened fire.

“He was scared for his life,” she said.

Surveillance video of the officer-involved shooting is missing, Garcia said.

“We don’t have video of the shooting,” she said. “That’s because they need to justify this.”

The officer who opened fire on Reyes was disciplined, according to Garcia.

Reyes tried to avoid the officer in the second collision, but he was rammed by the officer, which is against the police department’s policy, Garcia said.

Reyes faces a separate trial on the alleged kidnapping of his ex- girlfriend on Aug. 30, 2012. He is accused of holding her in various motels in Orange County for 11 days, threatening to kill her family if she told anyone, according to Deputy District Attorney Cyril Yu, who filed those charges.

During her alleged captivity, the victim gave birth to the couple’s son, according to Yu, who said Reyes took her to a hospital when she went into labor.

The woman managed to get away from him on Sept. 9, 2012, two days before the police chase, according to Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.

–City News Service

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