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Police Commission clears LAPD officers who fatally shot a man who had a toy gun

Police Commission clears LAPD officers who fatally shot a man who had a toy gun
Valerie Rivera, the mother of Eric Rivera, sobs after addressing the L.A. Police Commission. Eric Rivera died last summer after he was shot by officers, then run over by their uncontrolled patrol car. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Ten months after a man who had a toy gun was shot by Los Angeles police, then run over by an uncontrolled patrol car, police commissioners determined Tuesday that the officers were justified in using deadly force.

Siding with Chief Charlie Beck, the five commissioners unanimously decided that officers reasonably believed Eric Rivera posed a serious threat before they fatally shot him last June in Wilmington.

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The ruling was met with anger from Rivera's relatives and activists. Some cursed at commissioners. Rivera's mother cried. His father sat in silence.

Rivera's parents have routinely attended the civilian oversight panel's weekly meetings, demanding that the officers who shot their son be held accountable.

"I felt like I was actually doing something," Philip Malik, Rivera's father, said. "Now it feels like it didn't really result in anything."

Rivera, 20, was shot and killed after officers responded to Wilmington Boulevard to check on a 911 call about a man carrying a gun, according to a report Beck gave police commissioners.

Officers spotted Rivera walking down the sidewalk, holding what one said he thought was a gun, according to the report.

The officers bailed out of the car — so quickly that the driver didn't put it in park — and ordered Rivera to drop the gun, the report said. Instead, the officers told investigators, he raised it in their direction.

"I still see that look — the anger of determination," one of the officers said, according to the report. "I thought he was going to kill me."

The officers fired 11 rounds, striking Rivera in the head, chest and legs. The patrol car then rolled over him, the report said.

A Los Angeles police official cordons off a police car last summer as part of the investigation into the fatal shooting of Eric Rivera in Wilmington. Police said the officers' vehicle hit the man after he was shot.
A Los Angeles police official cordons off a police car last summer as part of the investigation into the fatal shooting of Eric Rivera in Wilmington. Police said the officers' vehicle hit the man after he was shot. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Rivera died at the scene. Beck's report said a "green and black colored plastic toy water gun" was found near his body.

Parts of the shooting were captured by the officers' body cameras, Beck's report said, though the view was "intermittently obscured" by their arms and the doors of their car. The footage "was not clear enough to determine Rivera's movements" at the time of the shooting, the report said.

The videos have not been released.

The union representing the LAPD's rank-and-file defended the officers' actions, saying they only had "fractions of a second to react" to a man pointing a gun at them.

"This incident is a tragic reminder that firearms, whether real or replicas, create an inherently dangerous situation in our communities when pointed at police officers," the Los Angeles Police Protective League said.

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The names of the officers were redacted from the copy of Beck's report that was made public Tuesday. The LAPD previously identified them as Arturo Urrutia and Daniel Ramirez.

Rivera's parents, who filed a federal lawsuit last year alleging police used excessive force, have called for criminal charges against the officers. On Tuesday, the district attorney's office said it had not yet received a case from the LAPD to review.

Tuesday's decision came on the heels of what has become another controversial encounter between police and members of the Rivera family.

On March 31, Rivera's mother posted on Facebook a 21-minute livestream showing officers detaining his brothers and friends at the site of his shooting. Valerie Rivera's video prompted an internal investigation by the LAPD and a review by the commission's inspector general.

The recording shows five young people lined up against a fence, hands cuffed behind their backs. A small group of candles sits just a few feet away.

"All we did was come and light my son's candles," Valerie Rivera says. "We didn't even do anything wrong."

One officer tells her that police stopped the boys when they saw their car, which appears to be parked diagonally on a driveway. There have been shootings in the area, he said — "we're here making sure that no one has guns."

Police ultimately let the group go. But the interaction prompted concern from at least one police commissioner.

"The officers, for the most part, appear to be acting in a very professional manner," Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill said at Tuesday's meeting. "However, it is the long term and frequent detention of young men of color, handcuffed, up against walls, that occurs all too often that is the underlying basis for much of the hostility, the outrage and the mistrust that is directed at law enforcement."

Beck said the LAPD would look into the "legality and propriety of the stop."

Valerie Rivera stood with nearly 20 other people outside the LAPD's downtown headquarters Tuesday, crying after the Police Commission announced its decision. As the group chanted her son's name, their voices echoed off the building.

"I just want my baby back," she said.

UPDATES:

8:30 p.m.: This article was edited throughout and updated with additional details from the police report about Eric Rivera's death, comments from his family and a police commissioner.

This article was originally published at 3:10 p.m.

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