Two Buena Park officers were justified in shooting and killing a Compton man who fired gunshots at a school bus driven by his estranged wife and then led police on a high-speed pursuit, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office has determined.
Prosecutors determined Buena Park police Cpl. David Bernal and Officer Jonathan Choi are not criminally culpable for the Sept. 3, 2021 fatal shooting of 61-year-old Cedric Baxter at the Buena Park School District’s headquarters on Orangethorpe Avenue, according to a letter released Wednesday outlining the results of the DA investigation.
Days after allegedly assaulting his wife and her son and after refusing to turn himself in on a warrant, an armed Baxter shortly before 2 p.m. on a Friday pulled his gray Chevrolet Tahoe up next to a Buena Park School District bus driven by his estranged wife that also had a 6-year-old passenger onboard, according to the DA letter.
Baxter followed the school bus and eventually blocked the bus’s path before exiting his SUV and firing the handgun toward the front of the bus as his wife begged and pleaded for him to stop, according to the DA letter. Police video footage of the incident released by the DA office picks up at that point, as a patrol officer driving nearby heard the honking of the school bus horn.
A nearly 10 minute, high-speed pursuit ensued as officers chased after Baxter’s SUV, the video footage showed, first as the SUV continued to ram the school bus, and then as it sped through traffic on nearby streets. Officer Bernal took over as the lead police vehicle in the pursuit, according to the DA letter.
The chase ended when the SUV blew through a gate and into the school district property, nearly hitting an employee before crashing into a parked car, the police video footage showed. According to the DA letter, a police helicopter watching from above warned the officers involved in the pursuit that “we’ve got to stop this, we’ve got citizens back here.”
Video from a police patrol car showed shots ringing out as soon as Baxter, who was shown holding the handgun, opened the door to the SUV. Baxter fell to the ground behind the SUV, the video showed, and appeared to point the gun at police as he rolled on the pavement.
Baxter was struck by multiple gunshots fired by the two officers and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Lexie Elliott in the DA letter wrote that Bernal and Choi were “justified to use lethal force against Baxter to protect themselves and members of society from a man who proved that he was set on harming his wife and had a reckless disregard for the safety of others and would not stop unless deadly force was used against him.”
According to the DA letter, Baxter had a lengthy criminal history, including previous arrests on suspicion of rape, manslaughter, robbery, burglary, drug possession and sale, domestic violence, auto theft and animal cruelty.
Neither Baxter’s wife nor the child in the bus were injured during the incident.