A man shot in the head in January during a scuffle with deputies at a Walmart in the Lake Forest community of Foothill Ranch reached for a handgun during the struggle, according to video released by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday, March 1.
The man who was shot survived and was recovering in jail, Orange County Sheriff’s Sgt. Todd Hylton said. No one else was injured.
He was identified as Ernest Aguilar, 30 of Santa Ana, Hylton said. He has been charged with multiple counts of assault with a deadly weapon against a peace officer and other felonies in the altercation at 26502 Towne Centre Dr. on Jan. 19.
Aguilar was one of three people attempting to use a fake receipt to either walk out with high-end electronics, or fraudulently return the merchandise for cash, Sheriff’s officials said in a critical incident report featuring video and audio recordings. Responding deputies approached him and a woman he was with as they were standing at a checkout line with a cart full of large items.
Deputies initially said they intended to take a trespassing report without formally arresting the man or the woman. They attempted to escort the couple out the store.
“You’re not going to jail right now, but if you want to make this a fuss, then we can do that.” one deputy said. “Let’s just leave this store peacefully while people are trying to shop.”
As Aguilar walked toward the store’s exit accompanied by two deputies, one noticed the sheath of a knife dangling from his right hip. The suspect put his hand on the item strapped to his waist, which prompted deputies to restrain his arms.
He was heard asking passing customers for help as deputies placed one end of a set of handcuffs onto his left wrist. A third deputy approached them and tried to convince Aguilar to calm down.
“I’m freaking out, I’m sorry,” Aguilar said as he continued to resist.
His phone and the contents of his wallet spilled onto the floor moments later as three deputies and a bystander wrestled him to the ground. At one point, Aguilar’s right hand is seen uncuffed and gripping a handgun that had apparently been hidden in his waistband, Hylton said.
“He’s got a gun!” one deputy shouts. “Shoot him! Shoot him!”
One deputy used his hands to press Aguilar’s arm and the gun against the ground while another fired a single shot that struck Aguilar. They immediately reported the shooting to dispatchers and summoned paramedics to treat a gunshot wound to his head.
“I’m dying!” Aguilar was heard saying shortly afterward while lying on the ground near the store’s checkout counters.
While deputies do appreciate whenever bystanders come to their aid, it’s not typically recommended for civilians to participate in an arrest, Hylton said in a brief interview.
He noted that the altercation at Walmart developed into a dangerous scenario in a matter of moments.
“Sometimes it’s best to be a good witness,” Hylton said.
Aguilar remained in custody in lieu of over $2.2 million bail as of Tuesday, according to inmate records. He has been charged with three counts of assault on a peace officer using a firearm, assault with a deadly weapon, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of ammunition by a convicted felon, possession of a gun missing a serial number and two counts of identity theft.
He had previously pleaded guilty to counterfeiting and driving with a suspended license in 2017, according to court records. The man shot by deputies was also a defendant in eight other open felony cases involving allegations of robbery, burglary, assault, criminal threats, resisting arrest, possession of a controlled substance and other offenses.
The public defender assigned to represent Aguilar did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The woman who was with Aguilar along with another man who was waiting outside of the store for them fled the area in a minivan, authorities said. They were later detained about 20 miles away in Midway City. It was not immediately clear if either might face any charges in the Walmart episode.
The Sheriff’s Department’s investigation into the shooting was still underway as of Tuesday. The Orange County District Attorney’s office is also looking into the matter, which is standard procedure any time a law enforcement agent fires a weapon while on duty. A decision regarding whether the deputy’s actions were justified will not be made until the investigations are complete.
Source: Orange County Register