A man shot in the head by an Orange County sheriff’s deputy this year appeared to reach for a handgun during a struggle at a Walmart in Lake Forest, authorities said Tuesday as they released footage of the incident.
Video from deputies’ body-worn cameras shows the man being escorted out of the store after an employee accused him of shoplifting. One deputy warns that he is carrying a knife. As the deputies struggle to handcuff him, one shouts, “He’s got a gun! Shoot him!” before a single shot rings out.
The man, identified as 30-year-old Ernesto Aguilar of Santa Ana, survived and is recovering in jail, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said. He was in custody in Orange on Tuesday, with bail set at nearly $2.3 million, according to county records.
The department released more than 15 minutes of footage from the Jan. 19 incident, including Walmart’s surveillance video and footage from the body cameras of the three deputies involved.
About 9:40 p.m., a Walmart loss-prevention worker called 911 to report what she described as attempted shoplifting at the store in the planned community of Foothill Ranch, according to the audio of the call published by the Sheriff’s Department. She told a dispatcher that two people who had a “fake receipt” on a cellphone were “grabbing high-ticket merchandise” and preparing to leave, which she said was a “common fraud.”
When three sheriff’s deputies arrived, the employee pointed them toward Aguilar, who was waiting in line at a register with a woman and a shopping cart holding several large boxes.
The video shows one deputy approaching them and saying that a store manager felt they were “about to steal” and wanted them to leave. Aguilar, who is holding cash, responds, “But we’re buying.”
“They don’t want to sell any merchandise to you guys, and they have that right,” the deputy says. He says they won’t go to jail but that he would file a trespassing report that would prevent both of them from coming back.
The deputies then begin walking them toward the exit. Aguilar doubles back to get his phone out of the cart, followed by one of the deputies, in the video.
“You’re like 40 years old, and you’re still stealing, dude?” the deputy tells him. “Get a job. Let’s go.”
As Aguilar walks past the registers, one deputy warns that Aguilar has a knife. The video shows Aguilar reaching for a sheath on his right hip, and a deputy warns: “Don’t reach for it. Get your f—ing hand off the knife.”
“Sorry, sorry, sorry, sir,” Aguilar responds, according to the video. The deputy then tries to handcuff him, telling him: “I don’t know if you have other weapons.”
One deputy holds Aguilar by his shirt while two others try to pull his hands together behind his back. A third deputy approaches and tells Aguilar to calm down, and he responds: “I’m freaking out. Please.”
The deputies struggle with Aguilar against a pallet of plastic water bottles. Aguilar’s cash falls onto the ground, and he says: “My money, my money, please — I need my money.”
The video then shows the three deputies and a bystander in a black shirt wrestling Aguilar to the ground.
The bystander, who did not work for the Sheriff’s Department, “attempted to assist the deputies during the use of force,” said Sgt. Ryan Anderson. The man appeared to put a hand on Aguilar’s neck or chest as he struggled, and said: “I’m helping, I’m helping.”
In the body-camera video, a deputy yells: “He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun! Shoot him. Shoot him.” The video appears to show one deputy using both hands to press Aguilar’s arm and the gun against the ground. Another fires a single shot into Aguilar’s head.
Then a man can be heard saying, “Shoot him, shoot him, shoot him. Nice, nice, nice.” Anderson said the department “confirmed through interviews that these comments were made by the civilian, and not by one of the involved deputies.”
A deputy stands up, reports the shooting and requests an ambulance, saying: “Subject’s going to have a gunshot wound to his head.” Aguilar can be heard saying, “Help me, I’m dying.”
He was taken to a hospital and underwent surgery, the department said. Aguilar was charged with several felonies, including assault on a peace officer and possession of a gun missing a serial number.
The Orange County district attorney’s office is investigating the shooting.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism