Family of man shot by Anaheim police collects nearly $1 million in wrongful death settlement

Attorney for Petrica Muntean’s family says evidence showed ‘police made up the story about Muntean pointing his BB gun at them

Petrica Peter Muntean (Courtesy)By TONY SAAVEDRA | tsaavedra@scng.com | Orange County Register

PUBLISHED: June 14, 2021 at 6:57 p.m. | UPDATED: June 15, 2021 at 10:48 a.m.

Anaheim has paid nearly $1 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit in the 2018 shooting of a mentally troubled man who officers said pointed a gun at them.

Petrica Muntean
Petrica Muntean

The firearm turned out to be a BB gun and it was not seen on video shot by the officers’ body-worn cameras, but apparently was hidden under a blue shawl draped around the man’s shoulders.

Jerry Steering, an attorney for the family of 24-year-old Petrica Muntean, said Muntean did not display the BB gun or extend his arm as described by police. Prosecutors under former District Attorney Tony Rackauckas concluded the shooting was justified, despite what Steering said was a discrepancy between the officers’ statements and what the video showed.

The video in question was available Monday through the district attorney’s website.

In the federal lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Mark K. Scarsi refused to grant limited immunity to the lead shooter, Officer Bartman Horn.

“While (officers) and Horn state Muntean pointed a gun at them, in the deadly force context, we cannot simply accept what may be a self-serving account by the police officer,” Scarsi said.

Didn’t point weapon at officers

Steering said a jury would have concluded that officers had been untruthful, and he consequently negotiated a settlement of $950,000 with Anaheim officials.

“We had to show evidence that the police claims that they shot Muntean because he pointed his BB pistol at them was false. This we did circumstantially; at least enough for reasonable jurors to find that the police made up the story about Muntean pointing his BB gun at them,” Steering said.

Anaheim spokesperson Lauren Gold said the shooting was difficult for everybody.

“We hope this brings closure for the family and all involved. Any loss of life in our city is tragic, and this shows the difficult situations our officers face in keeping our community safe,” Gold said.

Kimberly Edds, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, said its report was only to determine whether any criminal laws had been violated by police.

Shot previously by police

This wasn’t the first time Murtean was shot by police. Five years earlier, the then-19-year-old man was shot by Santa Ana officers after climbing into a stolen car despite officers’ orders. That shooting in 2013 also was declared justified by county prosecutors.

Officer Horn, who remains in Anaheim, was also involved in a shooting in 2014 while working for the Pasadena Police Department. Los Angeles County prosecutors concluded Horn “acted in lawful self-defense” when he shot Paris Holloway four times in front of an apartment complex.

According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, Horn shot Holloway during a foot pursuant in northwest Pasadena. Horn was attempting to talk to Holloway, who was clutching his waistband and then pointed a handgun at the officer, which prompted him to shoot, according to Horn’s testimony. Holloway, however, denied pointing a gun at anybody. He instead threw it over a fence, where it was found.

Holloway sued for his injuries. The case is pending in federal court.

Police called by mother

The circumstances are similar in the Anaheim shooting.

Police were called on April 12, 2018, to settle a civil dispute between Muntean and his mother, according to court documents. The woman told officers that Muntean was hallucinating and had a toy gun. Muntean fled and police were unable to find him until the next day, after he took a hamburger from the trash outside a fast-food restaurant and asked a worker to heat it

The worker called police, who determined the man could be Muntean. Officers tried to talk to him, but Muntean kept backpedaling and saying he had done nothing wrong, legal documents say. Finally, Muntean began running, keeping his right hand under the blue shawl. At one point, he held what was beneath the shawl up to his chin, as if he was going to commit suicide.

Finally, the officers cornered Muntean, who was crouched behind a car in a condominium cul-de-sac. Horn opened fire, shooting nine rounds. Officer Brendan Thomas fired seven rounds.

Muntean died in a hospital two weeks later from his wounds.

“This is what happens when you don’t have people trained in how to deal with mentally ill people,” Steering said.