It was a somber night last Thursday as the friends and family of Brandon Lopez gathered at a vigil for the slain 32-year-old cousin of a Santa Ana councilmember.
A pile of photos, flowers, candles and beer bottles on the corner of Santa Ana Boulevard and Bristol Street marked the location of where Lopez was shot and killed by Anaheim police officers two days before.
Flames from the candles lit up faces as dusk approached. Some were grieving, some were celebrating a life lived and some relayed messages of police brutality and how they threaten those struggling with their mental health.
“We are all a mental health crisis away from being killed by cops” read one poster left at the site.
Family members — including his cousin, Ward 5 Santa Ana Councilmember Johnathan Hernandez — say Lopez was experiencing a mental health crisis Tuesday night when Anaheim police shot and killed him after a five-hour pursuit that ended in a standoff.
Anaheim police said they began pursuing Lopez, who was wanted for armed robberies, around 5 p.m. after he was spotted driving a vehicle that was reported as stolen. Santa Ana police joined the pursuit but pulled back after Lopez fled and started driving dangerously through city streets, according to a department press release.
During the chase, Lopez’s car got stuck in a construction area for the OC Streetcar on Santa Ana Boulevard near Bristol Street. Santa Ana police arrived and spent three hours negotiating with Lopez to exit the vehicle. Anaheim Police Department SWAT took over negotiations and just before 10 p.m., officers said they used chemical agents on Lopez.
A video shared on social media shows Lopez exiting the vehicle followed by the sound of multiple shots from Anaheim officers firing their weapons. Lopez died on the scene.
At the vigil Thursday, mourners reflected on the fact that police use of force is all too common in Santa Ana. Public data shows that Santa Ana and Anaheim are the two deadliest police departments in Orange County with the highest rates of fatal police shootings per capita.
“We haven’t had time to grieve yet because it’s unbelievable but this brought our people of Santa Ana together,” Hernandez said. “If you look around you, you’ll realize this is ‘Thugz Mansion’.”