OCDA clears Santa Ana officers of wrongdoing in 2022 death of 73-year-old man bitten by K-9 dog

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Santa Ana police officers are not criminally culpable for the September 2022 death of a 73-year-old man taken into custody two days earlier after being wounded by less-lethal projectiles and bitten several times by a police K-9 dog, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said in a report released Thursday.
The OCDA’s custodial death report clears the officers of wrongdoing in their encounter with Miguel Chavez, who died in a hospital bed on Sept. 15, 2022 after the officers, in their effort to detain him following a pursuit along Santa Ana streets, fired less-lethal rounds at him and deployed a police K-9 dog, which bit the suspect several times.

According to the report, police had received reports that Chavez was armed, but when he was taken into custody, no gun was found.

Prior to the violent encounter, officers briefly pursued Chavez who, they said, drove away from the scene of a car crash. Chavez then refused to exit the white van he was driving, leading officers to shoot him with less-lethal rounds and unleash the police dog.

Striking body camera footage from the encounter, released along with the report in a 16-minute video, shows the moment a canine was let loose on Chavez.

When officers pulled him from the van, he was moaning in pain.

“The dog hurt me, what do you want me to do?” Chavez asked the officers in Spanish. “The dog hurt me, and I already have my hands on my back.”

Chavez, who had diabetes and high blood pressure, had multiple bruises and lacerations from the dog bite, as well as two hematomas and a round wound on his abdomen. He was transported to a hospital, where he received surgery for the dog bites — including a skin graft on his right arm — and told doctors that he “felt confused” when police attempted to contact him.

At around 12:30 a.m. on Sept. 15, nearly two days after he was admitted to the hospital, a nurse went into Chavez’s room and changed his position in the bed.

Roughly two hours later, the same nurse returned to his room and noticed that Chavez was not breathing.

For 16 minutes, doctors attempted to revive him, but Chavez was pronounced dead at 2:34 a.m.

According to a report from the Orange County Coroner, Chavez’s cause of death was ruled as cardiovascular disease complicated by dog bite injuries.

The death was ruled as a homicide by the coroner, but all of the officers involved in Chavez’s death were cleared of wrongdoing, according to the District Attorney’s Office, and their actions were found within the department’s policy.

The report concluded that Chavez’s death was the result of “severe pre-existing cardiovascular disease which was complicated by the canine bites,” and that there was no evidence officers did not use reasonable force on Chavez.

Chavez had no criminal history, aside from two traffic citations in the early 2000s, according to public records. He was from El Salvador. It’s unclear if he has any family in the United States.

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