The last thing Daniel Noriega expected when he dropped off his girlfriend’s son at school was to get shot at — especially by someone with a badge.
But that’s what happened to Noriega, an Orange County-born carpenter who was shot at by an ICE agent Dec. 1 across from Westmont Elementary School in Anaheim.
Federal and local authorities are tight lipped about the shooting, pointing to separate investigations by the Anaheim police department and the Department of Homeland Security. The District Attorney’s Office is also reviewing the case.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said only that the unidentified ICE agent is still on duty
Noriega, however, is eager to tell his side — which has become more interesting since a fatal shooting Feb. 16 at the ICE office in Long Beach. An agent there seriously wounded his supervisor and then was shot dead by another colleague. The dead agent was being evaluated by his boss.
The Anaheim episode also brings to mind the Feb. 7 shooting of Camp Pendleton Marine Manuel Loggins at San Clemente High School at 4:40 a.m.
The Watchdog is a little worried about law enforcement officers opening fire so close to schools. Westmont Elementary, on Loara Street, went into lockdown for 15 minutes because of the shooting, according to a letter sent to parents.
Noriega, 28, said he had just dropped off his girlfriend’s son at Anaheim Plaza, across from Westmont Elementary, at 8:45 a.m. when an unmarked car screeched to a halt in front of his GMC Yukon.
A man jumped out, fired at Noriega and then activated the light bar inside the windshield of the car, Noriega said.
Noriega, speaking at the office of his attorney, Nick O’Malley, said he figured out pretty quickly that the guy with a gun was a cop. But, Noriega said, he wasn’t going to stick around long enough to figure out why the cop was shooting at him.
“I was fearing for my life. I was just shocked. I was thinking that I’m not going to see my daughter no more,” Noriega said. “He never said, ‘Put your hands up.’ He never gave me a warning. He just got out and fired at me.”
Noriega said he manuevered his Yukon around the agent’s car and took off, in search of a uniformed police officer. He realized he had left his cell phone at home. Noriega said he fled to a Mobil station in Buena Park, where he borrowed a phone from the attendant to call “911.”
“I just wanted to find a regular, uniformed cop. I wanted to tell them I just got shot at,” Noriega said.
Police from Buena Park and Anaheim, as well as ICE agents, flooded the service station. Noriega was taken into custody by Anaheim officers. His SUV was searched and impounded.
With one hand handcuffed to a chair, Noriega was then questioned by an Anaheim detective about trying to run over a federal agent. He denied trying to run over anybody. He said was just trying to get away from the guy shooting at him.
Noriega remembered he had seen the shooter a few days earlier at his apartment complex. He and other undercover types had gone to a neighbor’s apartment with a picture of Noriega’s girlfriend’s former boyfriend. Noriega figures ICE agents confused him for the ex-boyfriend.
While Noriega was talking with Anaheim detectives, law enforcement authorities — he doesn’t know which agency — searched his apartment and told his girlfriend that he tried to kill an agent, Noriega said.
“Why were they doing this?” Noriega said. “I didn’t want to be charged with something I didn’t do.”
Police released Noriega that day, drove him home and later picked up the tab for his impounded vehicle, attorney O’Malley says. But, the attorney adds, Noriega is still considered a suspect.
“I’m scared they might come back and do it again,” Noriega said.
Anaheim Sgt. Robert Dunn said prosecutors are indeed reviewing whether to file charges against Noriega.
The case, it would seem, hinges on whether the agent fired before or after Noriega hit the gas.
There are plenty of other unanswered questions: If the agent feared for his life, why did he fire only once? If the shooting was justified, why did Anaheim let Noriega go?