LAPD says witnesses thought unarmed man had a gun; attorney rejects police account

Los Angeles police officials said witnesses to an officer-involved shooting of an unarmed man in Los Feliz last week told investigators they also believed the man had a gun when he walked toward officers.

Walter William DeLeon was shot Friday evening on Los Feliz Boulevard after police said he pointed his cloth-covered hands at officers, leading them to think he had a gun hidden under the gray cloth. They ordered him to drop the weapon, but he kept walking "aggressively" toward them, the LAPD said, prompting one officer to open fire.

No gun was found. DeLeon remained in critical condition Wednesday.

Police said several witnesses backed the officers' account. They declined to identify the witnesses.

But an attorney representing DeLeon's family rejected the LAPD's account of the shooting, saying the 48-year-old father of two was a caring family man who wasn't known to be combative.

"It's completely inconsistent with every single thing that we know about him," attorney Ben Meiselas said. "At this point, everything that's being said just simply doesn't pass the smell test."

Meiselas said DeLeon lived just a few miles away from where he was shot and liked to walk in the area. When he did, Meiselas said, he carried a towel to wipe away sweat.

"We've heard the excuses before, the officers saying, 'He was reaching in his waistband,'" Meiselas said. "Now that line doesn't work anymore. Now we hear, 'He's carrying a towel.'"

Keith Greco, who hired DeLeon for odds-and-ends jobs through his prop rental company, described DeLeon as a hard-working, polite person — the kind who addressed people as "Sir." Greco said he had "never seen a confrontational bone in him."

Court and prison records showed DeLeon spent less than a year in state prison during the early 1990s after he was convicted of discharging a firearm with gross negligence.

The Los Angeles Police Department's investigation into Friday's shooting remains ongoing. Department officials said the officers were stopped in traffic when they saw DeLeon walking toward Los Feliz Boulevard, with his arms extended and his hands covered by the cloth.

"DeLeon began pointing his arms toward the officers and continued walking toward them in an aggressive manner," an LAPD statement said. "Based on DeLeon's actions, the officers believed he was pointing a gun toward them."

LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said investigators were still trying to determine why DeLeon approached the officers. No broken-down car was found nearby, Smith said, and there was no injury to DeLeon's hand indicating that he needed help.

The shooting occurred along a stretch of Los Feliz Boulevard popular among joggers and people walking dogs. Residents interviewed by The Times said they saw the aftermath of the shooting, when the officers rolled DeLeon over and handcuffed him.

The two officers, who were patrolling nearby Griffith Park, have been removed from the field until LAPD Chief Charlie Beck reviews the initial investigation in what's known as a 72-hour briefing. The officers' names have not been released.

The shooting will also be reviewed by the Police Commission, its independent inspector general and the district attorney's office.


Follow @katemather for more coverage of Friday's shooting in Los Feliz.

Times staff writer Brittny Mejia contributed to this report.