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Panel finds 12 LAPD officers violated department policy in 2017 shooting from helicopter

It was a first for the Los Angeles Police Department: A helicopter was dispatched to where a 29-year-old man was barricaded inside a home on the top of a hill, surrounded by brush and debris.

During the hours-long standoff, the man fired at SWAT officers and they fired back from the helicopter, striking Anthony Soderberg. He died at the scene.

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This week, an oversight panel determined in closed session that 12 officers violated department rules on lethal force in the incident. The decision puts the Los Angeles Police Commission at odds with Chief Charlie Beck, who determined that all aspects of the May 8, 2017, shooting in Sunland were in policy, according to a report made public Monday.

The police commission voted 3 to 1 to find the officers out of policy in the fatal shooting. One officer was found to have acted within policy.

In a report to the five-member commission, Beck said that Soderberg's actions "presented an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury," and that the use of lethal force would be "objectively" reasonable.

One officer fired as many as 14 rounds, according to the report. At least 40 rounds were fired during the standoff and multiple rounds were fired from a distance of 500 feet or more.

It's unclear why the commission found the 12 officers out of policy. President Steve Soboroff declined to comment on the decision, and other commissioners did not respond to a request for comment. The office of the inspector general is expected to issue a report on the shooting shortly.

The police union that represents rank-and-file officers said in a statement that it is "extremely disappointed with the commission's decision" and that the officers involved should be getting a "thank you" instead of a rebuke.

"This armed suspect fired his weapon at LAPD officers, he fired at an LAPD helicopter with officers on board, putting all of their lives, and anyone on the ground at risk if his shots struck the pilot or damaged the aircraft," according to the statement. "Our officers operated with full authorization from command staff to try and contain this incident and only used appropriate force to protect their own lives and the lives of civilians on the ground."

The names of the officers involved were redacted in the report, but the LAPD previously identified all 13: Canaan Bodell, Cliff Chu, Jeremy Escamilla, Juan C. Flores, Jerry Fritz, Robert Gallegos, Joseph Goosby, David Keortge, Billy Lee, Gregory Martin, Michael Messenger, Jonathan Pultz and Mario Rios. It's unclear which officer acted within policy.

About 9 a.m. on the day of the shooting, a woman woke to find a man in her kitchen. She escaped through a bedroom window and called police.

Officers responding to the 11300 block of Alethea Drive were told there was a handgun, a rifle, a shotgun and ammunition inside the home, according to review of the incident by Beck.

Officers from the Metropolitan Division SWAT team determined that since Soderberg was in an "elevated position at the end of a cul-de-sac in hilly terrain" he posed more of a threat.

A lieutenant contacted a captain and asked permission to bring in a helicopter. The request was relayed up the chain of command and approved, according to the report. A commander said that the helicopter with armed officers was the "safest means" to contain Soderberg if he began shooting.

A crisis negotiation team was also brought in to negotiate with Soderberg. Two gunshots were heard inside the residence, and Soderberg yelled profanities and said, "I'll put a bullet in your head."

A person communicating with Soderberg through a robot asked him to put down the gun. Multiple shots were heard, and Soderberg responded again with profanity and said, "I'll kill all those SWAT officers that are out there."

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The officers deployed tear gas into the home, then heard on a police radio that Soderberg was outside the home with a gun in his hand, according to the report.

An officer saw Soderberg with a blue steel handgun in his right hand and fired two to three rounds. Soderberg fired at least one round in return. Multiple rounds were fired from officers before Soderberg was approached by a police dog and determined not to be a threat.

The tactic of opening fire from the air has been considered only four times since 2012, police previously told The Times. The May 8 shooting marked the first time an LAPD officer used it.

For more crime news, follow @nicolesantacruz on Twitter.

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