An Irvine police officer was legally justified in shooting a sexual assault suspect during an arrest last year, Orange County prosecutors concluded this week.

Det. Sean-Paul Crawford reasonably feared for his life when he believed that 35-year-old Ronald Van Williams was reaching for a gun in his waistband, according to a letter sent by the district attorney's office to Irvine Police Chief Dave Maggard on Tuesday.

On the morning of Sept. 3, police confronted Williams at his apartment complex in the 1100 block of Crested Bird, Irvine.

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They were serving an arrest warrant on Williams for allegedly swapping nude photos with and sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl he was teaching to tattoo.

According to the district attorney's letter, Crawford and his fellow officers surrounded Williams' car as it pulled into a parking lot, identified themselves as police and instructed him to put his hands up.

Instead, police said, Williams revved his engine, threw the car into reverse and sped backward toward the officers, who were able to get out of the way.

After realizing the way backward was blocked by a police van, Williams sped forward over a sidewalk and into a playground fence, where his car got stuck, they said.

An acquaintance who was in the front seat of the car then jumped out and laid on the ground, leaving the front passenger door open, according to the letter.

When Crawford stood in front of the open door, he saw that Williams had "a crazed look on his face" as he ripped at his shirt and reached into his waistband, according to the letter.

Crawford fired three times, striking Williams in the chest.

In an earlier interview, the girl told police that he always kept a gun in his car, the district attorney's letter noted.

After Williams started losing consciousness, officers cuffed him, pulled him out of the car and applied pressure to the gunshot wound, the letter said.

When paramedics arrived and loaded Williams onto a gurney, a .22-caliber pistol fell out of his pants, police told investigators.

Williams pleaded guilty in January to lewd acts on a child, providing marijuana to a minor, possession of a firearm by a felon, carrying a loaded firearm in public and resisting arrest.

A judge sentenced him to five years in state prison.