An unarmed 42-year-old man who was shot to death by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy in Hawaiian Gardens on Sunday night was trying to grab the officer's gun, according to sheriff's officials.
But an attorney for Johnny Ray Anderson's family disputed the account, saying that a neighbor saw the deputy shoot Anderson from about 20 feet away.
Sheriff's deputies arrived at the 12200 block of 216th Street after receiving a call about gang members smoking and drinking inside a vacant house. That call was followed by a report that a prowler was knocking on doors asking to be let in.
A deputy searching the area was looking over a side gate when Anderson jumped up from the other side of the gate and tried to grab his gun, said Capt. Rod Kusch of the sheriff's homicide bureau. The deputy fired a single round that hit Anderson in the chest. Anderson was pronounced dead at the scene.
Ralph Rios, the Anderson family's attorney, said a neighbor watching from a balcony saw Anderson putting his arms up trying to surrender when the deputy shot without a verbal warning. Anderson was too far away to have reached for the deputy's gun, Rios said.
"Instead of coming out with the truth, they seem to try to defend themselves by making false claims about what actually happened," Rios said of sheriff's officials.
Investigators are performing forensics tests to see if Anderson touched the deputy's gun, Kusch said.
Sheriff's officials did not release the deputy's name, but said he has been with the department for more than 10 years. He remains on duty at the Lakewood station while homicide detectives complete their investigation.
Anderson was homeless and living in an abandoned house at 215th Street and Belshire Avenue with his wife, Kathleen Anderson. The two had been working in Iowa, he as a roofer and she at a meatpacking plant, but they couldn't handle the cold weather and returned to Hawaiian Gardens in April.
Anderson, who collected recyclables for a living, was fixing a bicycle at the house about 9:40 p.m. when he saw a patrol car stop at the end of the driveway, his wife told The Times. Scared because he was illegally occupying the house and because he was listed on a gang injunction, Anderson fled, using a bucket to climb over a wall into a neighbor's yard, she said.
The morning after Anderson died, another man was shot to death by sheriff's deputies in nearby Lakewood. According to sheriff's officials, the man crashed his black BMW head-on into a patrol car, repeatedly reversed and drove forward, and he refused to get out of the car even after he was pepper-sprayed and shocked with a stun gun.
Four deputies opened fire after he struck a deputy with his driver's side door, trapping the deputy against a patrol car, sheriff's officials said. The Los Angeles County Coroner's office identified the BMW driver as John Leonard Berry, 31, of Lakewood.
Department policy instructs a deputy who is confronted by a moving vehicle to shoot only as a last resort.
So far this year, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies have shot 14 people, killing seven. In 2014, deputies shot 28 people, 20 of whom died.
The deputies who shot Anderson and Berry were from the Lakewood sheriff's station. Capt. Keith Swensson, the commander of the station, said he could not speak about the details of the incidents, citing the ongoing investigations, but he described the grim mood among his deputies.
"Any time that a peace officer takes somebody's life, you get shaken up," Swensson said. "There's just an overall feeling of sadness throughout the station."
Rios said he is preparing to file a lawsuit on behalf of the Anderson family.
Anderson was well-known in the neighborhood and was the father of seven children. He had a lengthy criminal record, including convictions for drug possession and receiving stolen vehicles. To protest his death, his friends have scheduled a community march for Sunday afternoon in Hawaiian Gardens.