Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck testified Monday that two officers given desk jobs after they fatally shot an unarmed man in 2010 were not reassigned because of their race but because they were unfit to work in the field.
Beck acknowledged that he concluded the shooting was justified but said the officers made a series of tactical errors leading up to their use of lethal force. The man who was shot and killed, 27-year-old Steven Washington, was unarmed and not involved in criminal activity, Beck said.
"I do not have confidence in their ability to perform the duties of a field officer," Beck said. "I have no immediate intention of returning them to the field."
Officers Allan Corrales, 35, and George Diego, 34, filed a racial discrimination lawsuit in 2012, alleging that because they are Latino and Washington was black, they repeatedly faced discrimination and retaliation within the department. They allege that the department has denied their requests to return to field duty, that they have been passed over for promotions and transfers and that they have not been allowed to pursue outside security work.
In March 2010, Corrales and Diego, who worked in an anti-gang unit, were driving along South Vermont Avenue in Koreatown when they encountered Washington, who was autistic.
The officers drove up slowly behind Washington, who was walking alone on the sidewalk just after midnight. The officers said later that they were investigating a suspicious noise, according to the department's internal review of the incident.
Corrales, who was in the passenger seat, told investigators that he drew his weapon as the vehicle approached because Washington moved a hand to his waistband. Corrales said Washington turned suddenly with an object in his hand that Corrales thought was a gun and pointed it at the officers.
Corrales fired once through the open passenger window, striking Washington in the head. Diego exited the vehicle and fired but missed, the review said.
Washington was later found to have been unarmed.
Beck concluded after an internal investigation that the officers had made serious tactical mistakes during the encounter with Washington but were justified in using deadly force because they feared for their lives.
The civilian commission that oversees the LAPD, however, rejected Beck's recommendation. In a unanimous vote, the commission found that the evidence did not support the officers' account of what had occurred and that they had violated the department's use-of-force policy. The shooting, commissioners concluded, was unreasonable.
Beck testified Monday that he embraced the commission's decision, even though it differed from his own. He ordered the officers to undergo retraining and issued reprimands. The officers were assigned to jobs that still allow advancement with the department, he said.
He denied that the officers had been subject to any racial discrimination: "That's absolutely not true."