It was a cold and cloudy night on Feb. 9 when Officer Suradech Sriwanthana responded to a traffic stop near the One Love Cali Reggae Fest at the Queen Mary.
His fellow Long Beach officers had stopped a driver and found a gun on one of the passengers in the backseat. They were waiting for backup, guns drawn.
The night was so cold (around 50 degrees and colder with the windchill), that Sriwanthana, a motorcycle cop, said he opted to wear his rarely-used “cold weather gloves” instead of his regular riding gloves, according to police documents. The choice would later prove to be problematic.
Officer Sriwanthana’s narrative of an incident in which he unintentionally shot a suspect in the arm this year is the first such information released by the Long Beach Police Department under a new police transparency law called SB 1421.
The law, which went into effect Jan. 1, drastically rolled back some of California’s strict privacy rules for police officers. Departments must now publicly disclose records relating to dishonesty, sexual assault and serious uses of force like police shootings.
While advocates say SB 1421 is a win for police transparency, the law has left many departments buried in a flood of public records requests. Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna has asked for several additional job positions in the city budget this year just to handle the backlog of requests from mostly lawyers and news outlets.
This month, the department released a 791-page report detailing its most recent officer-involved shooting in February. The report, which includes photos, officer accounts and recommendations from a review board, provides a first-of-its-kind glimpse into a Long Beach officer-involved shooting investigation.
On the night in question, Officer Kenny Cruz said he was working traffic control for the One Love Cali Reggae Fest around 11:30 p.m. when a driver in a black Honda Civic stopped to ask for directions to the freeway.
Cruz suddenly noticed an open bottle of Modelo beer in the center console cup holder.
“I told him, ‘You can’t drink and drive. What are you doing?'” Cruz recalled in the report.
As the officer leaned in to grab the bottle, he spotted a passenger in the back seat with a beer between his legs and the wood handle of a gun poking out of his pocket.
Fearing for his safety, Cruz shouted “Don’t move!” and grabbed the gun with his left hand.
Cruz and another officer remained focused on the five suspects in the Honda Civic as he heard the rumbling of police motorcycles rushing to the scene. Seconds later, he heard a loud bang. Air pressure hit the left side of his face.
“I heard Officer Sriwanthana say, ‘I had an AD (accidental discharge).’ I saw a hole in the front windshield,” Cruz recalled. “The driver started to yell, ‘You shot me.'”
The driver, an unidentified Compton man, was shot in his right arm. He was later treated at a hospital and survived. The others in the car—a woman and man from Compton, a Carson man, and a boy from Paramount—were not injured. Police recovered the gun and arrested one of the passengers, 19-year-old Jorge Gonzalez, on suspicion of possessing a loaded firearm in public.
Sriwanthana said he had drawn his gun to assist Cruz, but couldn’t feel the switch on his gun-mounted flashlight through his thick winter gloves.
“I routinely train and shoot the combat qualification courses while wearing my police motorcycle helmet and gloves, but had never shot a qualification course with these thicker cold weather gloves,” Sriwanthana said in the report.
The officer said he also couldn’t tell whether his weapon light was on because of the glare from his motorcycle lights.
“I squeezed the grip with my right hand again to activate the light switch,” he said. “I believed I did this two more times while I was moving to my right when I heard a shot and saw a bullet hole on the windshield of the suspect vehicle.”
Sriwanthana said he felt the recoil but was initially confused because he didn’t think he had fired his weapon.
The Long Beach Police Shooting Review Board later determined that some of his actions before the shooting were not within department policy. The board recommended additional tactical training, including training with equipment not normally used in cold weather.
The Post has multiple record requests pending with the Long Beach Police Department into other incidents, including officer-involved shootings.
Editor’s note: A paragraph in this article inadvertently referred to Sriwnthana as Cruz and was corrected.