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Deputy Identified in Rancho Santa Margarita Shooting

Manuel Cruz, a 10-year veteran of the Orange County Sheriff's Department, is identified as the officer who shot Dennis Mueller.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department deputy who last month shot a 20-year-old Rancho Santa Margarita resident after a high-speed motorcycle pursuit has been identified as Manuel Cruz.

Cruz, a 10-year veteran of the OCSD assigned to traffic detail, shot Dennis Mitchell Mueller on March 10 after Mueller sped away from him in his motorcycle, according to the Sheriff's Department.

Cruz, who was also riding a motorcycle, had contact with Mueller in the past and went to the neighborhood where he lived. There, according to a department spokesman, Cruz ordered Mueller not to move, but the suspect instead reached inside his jacket toward his waistband.

Cruz fired his weapon, striking Mueller at least once in the lower abdomen. Witnesses said they heard several gunshots. Mueller was not armed.

Mueller was charged Tuesday with two misdemeanor traffic violations and an infraction. He was cited for driving with a suspended/revoked license, reckless driving with injuries, and excess speed/lane use.

The Sheriff's Department declined to release Cruz's background information, employment history or photo, saying they are part of his personnel records and therefore exempt from public disclosure. The department acknowledged that he was hired Nov. 2, 2001, and that he had returned to work since the shooting.

Despite a Public Records Act request by Patch to the Orange County District Attorney's office, authorities wouldn't say how many times Mueller was shot, the extent of his injuries, his condition, or the manner or sequence in which Cruz fired his weapon pending the investigation of the incident by the district attorney.

The release of the officer's name took 24 days, about 10 days longer than the department took to acknowledge that Deputy Darren Sandberg was the officer who shot and killed Marine Sgt. Manuel Loggins on Feb. 7 in San Clemente.

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, near Alma Aldea, when Cruz reportedly observed Mueller riding his Suzuki without a license plate and speeding. The deputy lost sight of Mueller, who was known through previous contact with Cruz. The officer went to Mueller's residence on Meadow Park Lane in Robinson Ranch. It's there that the shooting took place, all in the span of about a minute, at 12:57 p.m.

Mueller has had no fewer than 15 run-ins with the law, beginning when he was 13 and cited for purchasing or being in possession of tobacco/paraphernalia.

The most serious offense was buying or receiving a stolen vehicle on Aug. 25, for which he pleaded guilty. He served 30 days in jail and was placed on three years' probation.

Mueller was also charged with being under the influence of a controlled substance on June 9, 2011, for which he has yet to be judged in court.

Many of Mueller's contacts with law enforcement came from his driving too fast for the conditions, which inevitably led to the discovery that he failed to have documentation with him such as registration and insurance. 

Over the past year, since March 7, 2011, Mueller was cited eight times—including the most recent—by three agencies, the Orange County Sheriff's Department, California Highway Patrol and Newport Beach Police Department.

Last December, he was charged with reckless driving, driving with a suspended license, and going faster than 100 mph. He was to appear in court on those charges April 12.

vince April 04, 2012 at 12:55 AM
24 days to get the name of the officer and yet since week one, we have known every run in and citation that the victim has EVER had. BTW, "The officer went to Mueller's residence on Meadow Park Lane in Robinson Ranch." this is clearly NOT protocol, on a "speeding" violation. Even if the kid ditched the LEO, we cannot have police just waiting in ambush for people at their suspected place of residence !! Soooooo many questions to be answered, on this one.
LeAna Bui April 04, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Arrest and citations have always been public record. Personnel records are not. I do not know all the facts surrounding the shooting so I will not comment on the right/wrong of the shooting. I will say that if Mueller had this record and had caused a serious injury or, worse, a death, the public would be wanting to know how the system failed to catch this repeat offender. Mueller's records seem to indicate that he has no respect for traffic laws and a disregard for others' safety. Whether the officer was justified in shooting is a different story, but I, for one, am glad that the officer took the time to follow up to attempt to apprehend this man.
JLS April 04, 2012 at 02:09 AM
Excellent Vince. Well said!
Shawn Gordon April 04, 2012 at 03:39 AM
About flipping time, now are they so inept they haven't been able to count the number of missing bullets from his gun yet? What is this guy doing back on duty? What kind of duty is he doing? He better bet at a desk and not on the road if this investigation is still pending. How about some more details?
Chris McLaughlin April 04, 2012 at 06:22 AM
There's several troubling things about this case for me still, not the least of which is why was someone with such an extensive rap sheet free to break the law again?? How many strikes do you get before they put you away for good?? It's not like he's juvenile anymore... That doesn't excuse what seems to be mistakes by Officer Cruz, like pursuing a traffic violation suspect to their residence, mistaking them for being armed when not, not using less than lethal force (if appropriate), and shooting how many times??? My fear is that the DA will decide that no crime has been committed, and then everyone drops it like nothing bad happened and we get no explanation about anything, whether any policies were broken or even what the policies are/should be.
vince April 04, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Chris, the register reported today that he was shot several times. Which confirms what I was told from an eye witness. There were also bullet wholes in garage doors and a parked vehicle. I have lived in RSM for 21 years and I find this to be both, completely unacceptable and appalling. We do not live in, Santa Ana, Anaheim, Pasadena or Fullerton, The people who care about this Great City we live in cannot simply let it fade away unexplained. Transparency and accountability are what is needed. I fully expect the people we have elected to stay on top of these issues, as they affect everyone in our community.
OCRSM April 10, 2012 at 10:46 PM
I don’t know the officer but I do know about Dennis and he for sure is a menace. He has now been given a 2nd chance, hopefully he takes this opportunity to do good and not torment people and do drugs like he has been!

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