A year after 20 bullets strike couple in fatal Inglewood police shooting, questions remain

The group gathered at Inglewood City Hall — family members, activists and clergy — to express frustration about a shooting still shrouded in mystery. 

A year ago, Inglewood police officers shot and killed a couple they said appeared to be unconscious in their car in the early morning darkness. Twenty bullets pierced Kisha Michael and Marquintan Sandlin. 

But since the Feb. 21, 2016, shooting, the Inglewood Police Department has not released a timeline of events that led to the controversial shooting of Michael, 31, and Sandlin, 32. It has not explained why five officers unleashed a barrage of bullets into the car, or whether Michael or Sandlin threatened the officers. 

Michael, a mother of three boys, died at the scene. Sandlin, a father of four girls, died later in a hospital. 

On Tuesday, a group that included the couple’s relatives gathered outside Inglewood’s City Hall to express dissatisfaction with the investigation and what it calls the lack of transparency from the Police Department and city officials. The 50 people planned to voice their concerns at the council meeting, but it was canceled.

“The dead can’t fight," said Michael's twin sister, Trisha. So it’s the responsibility of the “living to fight for them and that’s what we’re doing.”

Members of Michael’s and Sandlin’s families tried to deliver a letter to Mayor James T. Butts, demanding that he provide a status report, release all recordings from the morning of the shooting, terminate the officers and recommend charges to the district attorney, and provide a fund for the seven surviving children. 

Kema Decatur, the deputy to the city manager, told the family that Butts was attending a meeting off-site and that she would forward the letter to him.  

“They really just need closure. They need healing and they need justice,” Priest Francisco Garcia of Holy Faith Episcopal Church in Inglewood told Decatur. “And they need answers.”

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said that Inglewood police forwarded the case for review in November. Greg Risling, the district attorney's office spokesman, said that the investigation remains under review.

In a statement issued Tuesday by Butt’s spokeswoman Jasmyne Cannick, the mayor said that Inglewood Police Department is also running a confidential internal investigation into the police shooting, which should be completed within 30 days. Any disciplinary action taken as a result of that internal investigation would remain confidential according to California’s public safety officers bill of rights, the statement said.

“I have confidence in the Chief of Police to take whatever actions are warranted by the department's investigation in accordance with due process,” Butts said in the statement. “I continue to send my prayers and heartfelt condolences to the family members of Ms. Michael and Mr. Sandlin.”

The five officers involved in the shooting — Michael Jaen, Richard Parcella, Jason Cantrell, Sean Reidy and Andrew Cohen — remain city employees, Butts said.

For now, the few details of what happened that night are gleaned from an Inglewood Police Department statement and the autopsy reports conducted by the L.A. County coroner’s office.

According to those accounts, police approached Michael and Sandlin in a car at Manchester Boulevard and Inglewood Avenue shortly after 3 a.m.  The couple appeared “unconscious” and Michael, who sat in the passenger seat, had a gun on her lap, authorities said.

An autopsy report reviewed by The Times said only that there was an “unknown exchange” between police and the decedents before officers fired several rounds into the car.

Police have never said whether Michael or Sandlin pointed the handgun at them. 

Days after the shooting, Butts told NBC4 in a televised interview that officers “retreated, isolated the vehicle and spent about 45 minutes attempting to rouse the occupants and to de-escalate the situation.”

Butts would not corroborate that account to a Times reporter.

“Any timeline that has been given was based upon preliminary information in an attempt to provide basic information,” he said in an email.

The autopsy report shows that Michael’s blood alcohol content was 0.185%, more than twice the legal blood alcohol content limit for driving. She sat in the passenger seat. Traces of methamphetamine, which the coroner’s report said can be used to treat attention deficit disorder and obesity, were found in her blood.

Sandlin’s blood alcohol content was 0.13%, over the legal driving limit. No drugs were found in his system.

Attorney Milton Grimes, who filed a civil lawsuit on behalf Michael’s family, said that he received a discovery file in December from the city that left more questions than answers.

“It’s the weirdest report I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I have no information on what her actions or words were. There’s a big valley” between the unspecified exchange and the shooting.

After group members delivered the letter to the mayor, they marched across Manchester Boulevard to Inglewood Avenue, where they chanted, grieved and prayed. 

angel.jennings@latimes.com

Twitter: @AngelJennings

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