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Tustin Officers Deploy S.W.A.T. and Helicopters to Hunt Suspected ‘Gunman’; Community Reacts


Areas of Tustin were on lockdown on Thursday following an officer-involved shooting of a suspected gunman, prompting an hours-long “manhunt”.

Officials claim that they received a call just before 9 a.m. on Thursday about a “suspicious person” carrying a“sawed-off shotgun or rifle” in an apartment complex near the Red Hill Ave and 5 freeway intersection. They state that an officer saw the“suspect” walking on the sidewalk just before confronting him and firing at the individual for “unknown reasons”, which prompted the “suspect” to flee the area.

Soon after, Tustin police in armored vehicles swarmed the neighborhood, closing off a section of Red Hill Ave between Mitchell Ave and Nisson Rd. Numerous Tustin Unified School District schools were even placed on a “soft lockdown” as a “precaution.”

Police agencies from multiple jurisdictions would quickly follow, including the participation of Tustin Police, Irvine Special Weapons And Tactics (S.W.A.T.), and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Moments later, agencies took over a Stater Bros. parking lot plaza to set up various Mobile Command Centers (M.C.C) and to station various police vehicles. As officers’ “hunt” continued, Orange County Sheriff Department helicopters were landed onto Red Hill Avenue for S.W.A.T. snipers to ride the aircraft’s landing skids and join the search.

Many local residents still uninformed about the situation seemed puzzled when learning about the “manhunt.”

“I thought there was an event going on,” assured one man as he questioned about the actions.

“This is a fucking waste of my tax money right here!” shouted another passer-by as he was denied access through Red Hill Ave, “to catch one motherfucker they gotta roll out this shit!”

The meticulously orchestrated inter-agency operation would soon be seen as an overwhelming use of force by some residents. Many even questioning the motives of the officers, as the actions seemed to resemble a drill or an exercise on behalf of the officers.

The timing and location for the police department’s elaborate protocol would also have greater significance on this day. Exactly two months ago, 23-year-old Robert Villa was shot and killed by Tustin officers in the same enclosed area on Nisson Rd. Villa was shot multiple times after officers responded to a “family disturbance” call, claiming they were “confronted with a male suspect armed with a knife.”

Following the killing of Villa, his mother, Leticia Villa, along with other fatal police shooting victims’ families, marched to the Tustin City Council meeting to demand accountability on behalf of the police department for the excessive use of force against their loved one.

Instead, they were met by an unreceptive Tustin city council that would walk out on the Villa family as “Letty” shared the pain of having lost her son, not before first commemorating and awarding officers for their “services”.

In the following weeks, the Villa family, joined forces with the family of Paul Quintanar, who was killed after being struck by a vehicle while running away from police in 2011. 19-year-old Quintanar was also killed near the Nisson Rd and Red Hill Ave intersection. Robert and Paul’s families have rallied at this intersection every Monday for the last couple of weeks while enduring continued harassment by Tustin officers.

Paul’s mother, Marie Sales, and Letty were documenting the police’s actions during Thursday’s “manhunt” when they started rallying next to reporters and cameras that were waiting for a 2 p.m. press conference.

“They are the shooters,” affirmed Letty, “They are the shooters, they take people’s lives!”

Police quickly enclosed the area with crime-scene tape and expelled any “civilians.”

Shortly after the 2 p.m. press conference, it was announced that 20-year-old, Justin Herrera, was taken into custody by S.W.A.T. officers.

As described by a witness through social networking mediums, Herrera was hiding behind some bushes in the residence. Footage of the arrest was shared where Herrera is seen wearing a “black and white cap,” as described by officials.

“He never shot at the police, the police shot at him because they thought he had a gun, and he left running,” stated the person who shared the footage.

According to Tustin Police Chief, Charles Celano, Herrera was arrested and charged with “brandishing a firearm at a police officer” and “illegal possession of a firearm.” As of publication date, no weapon has been found.

Coincidentally on the same afternoon, the Tustin Police Department was scheduled for an “on-site assessment” as “part of a program to achieve accreditation by verifying it meets professional standards.” According to a T.P.D. release, the assessment is administered by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (C.A.L.E.A.). The document states that the accreditation program “requires agencies to comply with state of the art standards in four basic areas; policy and procedures, administration, operations, and support services.”

Despite the show of force by Tustin police, victims’ families will continue to hold a march that was planned for the upcoming Saturday. The call-to-action meant to help raise awareness against “out-of-control killer cops.”

A large turnout is expected for the action, with participation and support coming in from various grassroots and community-based organizations. The march is scheduled to commence at 3 p.m. in front of the Casa Cortez Apartment Homes in the 1412 block of Nisson Road, place where Robert Villa was downed by officers, and down the street from the Red Hill Ave and Nisson Rd intersection.