The alleyway where Victor Ortega died, the one that cuts up the middle of Court 84 of the Mesa Village apartments in Mira Mesa, is a little more than 3 feet wide. Enclosed by a high stucco wall on one side and a fence on the other, it’s a cramped space. It’s where, on the morning of June 4, 2012, San Diego police officer Jonathan McCarthy shot and killed the 31-year-old unarmed father of two after Ortega allegedly grabbed for the officer’s gun.
Townhouses surround the alley, but there were no witnesses to Ortega’s death. Two residents told investigators they saw, from their window, McCarthy and Ortega engaged in a struggle, but turned away seconds before shots were fired. Several other people reported hearing Ortega say a stunned “Are you kidding me?” and “I’ll sue you” moments before gunfire.
McCarthy, who had spent just two years on the force before the incident, told police investigators that he feared for his life before he shot Ortega. Based on the officer’s version of events, prosecutors said Ortega’s killing was justified.
But police reports, depositions, interview transcripts and other evidence disclosed in a federal lawsuit filed two years ago by Ortega’s widow reveal inconsistencies in McCarthy’s account of what happened in the alleyway immediately before Ortega’s death. U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns, who is presiding over the case, recently expressed doubt that it would be possible for McCarthy to have done everything he said he did during his altercation with Ortega.