A dangerous, early-morning confrontation between four off-duty officers and a felon -- all of them armed -- has sparked criticism from community activists who claim the police department is covering up the involved officers' misbehavior.
The incident happened Nov. 7 in the parking lot outside McGregor’s Ale House in Grantville.
Details about the armed face-off emerged for the first time Wednesday when community activists told local news media about a hearing in the case.
”This was a botched cover-up,” said Tasha Williamson, a police critic and member of the activist group Building Justice. “These officers, drinking, with weapons on them, should have called on-duty patrol officers to the scene.”
But prosecutor Michael Runyon said evidence made public so far shows that the off-duty officers acted appropriately in responding to suspicious activity by the defendant, Jonathan Felix.
At a news conference after today’s hearing, Runyon said the four off-duty officers noticed Felix leaving and returning several times from the parking lot, and acting as if he might steal a vehicle from the property.
Runyon said the officers decided to “contact the defendant to figure out what was going on, and (be sure) there weren’t any issues or problems.
“At that point, the defendant pulled out a firearm and pointed it at the (off-duty) officers," he said.
Runyon said the officers “pulled out their firearms as well, and pointed them at the defendant. Fortunately, for all parties involved, no shots were fired.”
The off-duty officers subdued Felix, who, according to his attorney, suffered significant neck, spinal and lung injuries in the confrontation.
Prosecutors charged Felix, a convicted felon, with illegal possession of a weapon and ammunition. He also faces a misdemeanor drug charge.
But Felix’s lawyer disputes the prosecution’s version of events, and claims the criminal charges against her client are designed to cover-up serious wrongdoing by the four off-duty officers.
"They were rowdy, they were drunk," said attorney Alicia Freeze, who said the off-duty officers had been drinking at McGregor’s.
Freeze insists her client did nothing wrong and gave officers no reason to question him.
"If there was something amiss and these officers thought there was something wrong, or thought they were in danger, why didn't they call an on-duty officer?” Freeze asked.
“Why they approached my client in the parking lot, armed, without calling for backup, is a mystery. He felt threatened, and totally alone, with four drunk, large men coming at him.”
Freeze said her client never pointed his weapon at the officers, though she wouldn’t comment on why he had the handgun with him.
Freeze and attorney Doug Gilliland, who is contemplating filing a civil lawsuit against the city of San Diego on Felix’s behalf, said the police report on the incident and surveillance video of the parking lot that night might provide answers about what actually happened.
The defense attorneys received some evidence in the case Wednesday from the District Attorney’s office and will review it soon.
Meanwhile, Tasha Williamson, the community activist, is demanding answers and information from the department. She said Chief David Nisleit should release the names of the off-duty officers, reveal their current status with the department, and provide a public accounting of what happened in that early-morning confrontation.
“We want San Diego Police to own this issue, and to act on it, now,” Williamson said.
NBC 7 asked San Diego police about their policy on off-duty officers, when they carry weapons, and any restrictions on drinking when armed.
The department did not respond to the questions or provide any information about the incident or the status of the officers involved.