Prosecutors have declined to file criminal charges against the three Los Angeles police officers who shot and killed an unarmed man at the end of a pursuit that was broadcast on live television.
The decision came after LAPD Chief Charlie Beck's finding last year that the officers violated department policy for using deadly force when they shot Brian Beaird, a 51-year-old National Guard veteran, on the night of Dec. 13, 2013.
Before the department's investigation was complete, the city agreed to pay Beaird's family $5 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit — the largest payout Los Angeles has made in a fatal police shooting case in at least a decade.
But in a Jan. 29 letter outlining the decision not to file charges, prosecutors cited a "tense and chaotic" situation in which officers thought Beaird was reaching for a weapon.
Prosecutors ultimately determined that there was "insufficient evidence to provide beyond a reasonable doubt" that the three officers "did not act in self-defense and in defense of others."
"Officers had reason to believe Beaird might be a danger," prosecutors wrote.
The letter noted Beck's opinion that the shooting was out of policy, but cited the lower burden of proof used in LAPD administrative proceedings versus criminal prosecutions. Beck had rejected claims by the officers that they fired because they feared their lives were in danger.
Dale Galipo, an attorney representing Beaird's family, said his clients were "disappointed, but not surprised."
"I think one of the reasons we have so many police shootings is that no one ever prosecutes the officer," Galipo said. "One wonders whether or not without criminal prosecution, these shootings will actually be deterred."
An attorney representing the three officers — identified by the LAPD as Armando Corral, Leonardo Ortiz and Michael Ayala — could not be reached for comment Monday evening. An LAPD spokesman said the officers had been relieved of duty, without pay, pending disciplinary action.
Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies initially tried to pull over Beaird's silver Corvette in Cudahy, but gave up after it crossed the city limits. According to a report from Beck released last year, LAPD officers patrolling the city's South Park neighborhood noticed the vehicle driving erratically shortly after 10 p.m. and began a pursuit.
According to the district attorney's account of the incident, 10 more officers and an LAPD helicopter joined the pursuit, chasing after the Corvette as it sped into downtown Los Angeles. Within 15 minutes of the LAPD's initial involvement, the sports car crashed into a Nissan at Olympic Boulevard and Los Angeles Street. The Corvette lodged between a tree and a light pole; the Nissan sheared off a fire hydrant, sending water spewing into the air.
In television footage, Beaird was seen staggering out of the Corvette and making erratic gestures as he walked to the back of the car. One officer fired a beanbag round, striking Beaird in the leg and causing him to bend over. The three other officers opened fire after he turned away from them.
Beaird was struck more than a dozen times, with three of the shots deemed deadly. His 80-year-old father said he watched the chase live on television, including the moment when his son was killed.
Officers at the scene told investigators Beaird ignored multiple orders to show his hands and get on the ground, according to the letter from prosecutors. One officer described him as "angry and agitated." Three others said they saw Beaird reach toward his waistband before the gunshots were fired.
A toxicology screening showed Beaird had marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine in his system, along with an antidepressant, the letter said.
The letter also noted the angle of the shooting captured by news helicopters did not "provide the same view [of] the shooting officers had at the time they fired their weapons." Prosecutors said several officers, standing in various locations, believed Beaird was reaching for a weapon.
Beck must now decide what punishment to give the officers, who face discipline ranging from possible suspensions or firings to further training.