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Family of man killed by LAPD calls for charges against officers, whose tactics were faulted

The family of a man fatally shot by Los Angeles police officers last year called Wednesday on prosecutors to bring criminal charges against the officers who killed the 35-year-old, who was using a wheelchair while recovering from a hip injury.

Luis Martinez was depressed and recuperating from a broken hip when officers said he charged them with a large knife at his Lincoln Heights home. Police said they responded to the home after Martinez's wife called 911 to report that her husband was depressed and had stabbed himself.

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Arnoldo Casillas, an attorney representing the family, disputed the police account at a news conference Wednesday, saying that Martinez's injuries were so serious that he would have been physically unable to stand up and lurch toward the officers as they alleged. He also alleged that Martinez was unarmed at the time, but did not offer evidence to support the claim.

Casillas pointed to an autopsy report saying that Martinez was shot four times during the confrontation. Three of those shots were fired into his back.

He noted that the LAPD chief and the city's Police Commission faulted the officers for failing to bring a Taser into the apartment even though they knew they were responding to a report of a suicidal man who had stabbed himself.

"This is a classic example of Keystone Kops-type antics," Casillas said.

Flanked by Martinez's wife and other relatives, many of whom held pictures of Martinez and wore shirts emblazoned with his face, Casillas demanded that Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey bring criminal charges against the officers.

The family has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the officers who opened fire, he said.

An attorney representing the officers said prosecutors should "absolutely not" file criminal charges in connection with the shooting. Gary Fullerton said the officers were justified in opening fire after Martinez moved toward them with the knife.

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"They're going there to render assistance to him and try to stop him from hurting himself and he turns his wrath on them," Fullerton said. "They didn't have a choice but to defend themselves."

The commission and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck faulted the officers' tactics but found that their decision to use lethal force was within department policy.

The shooting occurred April 21 when Hollenbeck Division patrol officers were called to Martinez's home in the 3400 block of Manitou Avenue. Martinez had been injured a few months earlier when he jumped or fell over a railing from the third floor of his apartment complex and broke his hip, according to a written summary of the shooting and findings of the Police Commission. Martinez had been unable to return to work since his release from the hospital and was using a wheelchair, the commission's report said.

Martinez's wife told officers who arrived that her husband was no longer armed, the report said. When they went inside, officers saw that the front of Martinez's shirt was covered in blood and believed he had suffered a significant injury, the report said.

As the officers tried to help him, Martinez armed himself with an 8 1/2-inch knife, according to the report. He ignored repeated orders to drop the weapon, and stabbed himself in the chest, the report said. One of the officers left to retrieve a Taser weapon, according to a report sent from Beck to the commission about the shooting.

Officers opened fire as Martinez walked at "a fast pace" to within about three to five feet of one of the officers while holding the knife, both reports said. He fell to the ground but pushed himself up and lunged at one of the officers, the commission's report said. Officers fired more rounds.

The commission's report said a firefighter who responded to the incident told investigators that before the gunshots he heard voices from the area of the apartment saying, "Put the knife down. Put the knife down."

Martinez's wife said she did not see the knife and, when told to leave the apartment, said to the officers that her husband wasn't armed, the report said. From outside her door, she heard officers say, "Put down the knife," the report said.

The names of all the officers who responded were not included in the commission's report and were redacted from Beck's report, but the LAPD previously identified those who opened fire as Ricardo Huerta, Rudolph Rivera and Aldo Quintero. Two other officers who responded were not identified.

Beck's report said the decision to leave Tasers in their patrol vehicles meant that the officers were without a "less lethal" weapon to subdue Martinez.

Beck also criticized the officers for failing to come up with a tactical plan for how to deal with Martinez when they arrived at the home. Beck recommended that the commission find that the tactics used by four of the officers "substantially and unjustifiably deviated from approved department tactical training." A detective who also responded did not deviate from department training, Beck found. The commission adopted Beck's recommendation. 

Despite the criticism, Beck and the commission concluded that the officers' use of lethal force complied with the department's training and policies. The chief found that officers with similar training and experience would "reasonably believe Martinez's actions presented an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury."

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Times staff writer Jack Leonard contributed to this report.

For more Los Angeles crime and police news, follow @JamesQueallyLAT and @katemather

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