A Los Angeles police officer will not be charged for the fatal shooting of an African American woman in a South L.A. alley, a controversial killing that caused protesters to camp outside City Hall for weeks decrying the police.
The decision from the district attorney's office was made public Tuesday, nearly two years after Officer Brett Ramirez shot Redel Jones, 30, who authorities say was armed with a knife and suspected of robbing a nearby pharmacy about a half-hour before she was killed.
In a May 1 memorandum explaining their reasoning, prosecutors said Ramirez reasonably feared for his life and acted lawfully to defend himself when he pulled the trigger. Jones, the memo said, was an "armed, dangerous fleeing felon" and Ramirez used reasonable force to "apprehend" her.
Jones' 2015 death came amid the ongoing national outcry over how police officers use force, particularly against African Americans. The shooting quickly drew the attention of activists with the local Black Lives Matter movement, who chanted Jones' name at weekly meetings of a police oversight panel and spread it on Twitter as a hashtag.
When members of the Police Commission determined last summer that the shooting fell within the Los Angeles Police Department's policy for using deadly force, activists and others marched in protest from police headquarters to City Hall. They camped there for more than a month, holding signs and circulating a petition demanding that Mayor Eric Garcetti fire LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.
Melina Abdullah, a Cal State L.A. professor and Black Lives Matter organizer, said she believed the shooting warranted charges. She disputed the idea that Jones posed a threat and questioned why the officer felt he had to shoot a woman who stood only about 5 feet tall.
Abdullah also echoed a persistent criticism from other activists and community leaders who assert Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey has not been tough enough on police officers accused of using too much force.
"It's enraging and heartbreaking at the same time," she said of the decision not to charge the officer who shot Jones. "I think it points to a larger issue with this D.A., where we haven't seen any charges filed."
Dale Galipo, an attorney representing Jones' family in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Ramirez and the city, said he was "disappointed but not surprised" by the lack of prosecution. The district attorney's office last charged an on-duty officer in a shooting more than a decade ago, he noted.
"Why is there even a review process?" he said. "It's a farce."
Jones' husband gave emotional testimony to police commissioners shortly before they weighed the case last year, describing the mother of his children as a kind woman who "always thought of others more than herself."
"You all stole her from me," Marcus Vaughn told the board, saying he wanted the officers prosecuted.
Larry Hanna, one of the attorneys who represented Ramirez after the shooting, said he was not surprised that the district attorney had declined to pursue a criminal case. Prosecutors, he added, "treat these things seriously."
"Officers are always saddened when they have to take a life," he said. "She stopped so suddenly and lunged at the officer — he had no choice."
The events leading up to the deadly shooting began about 1:45 p.m. on Aug. 12, 2015, when a woman entered a Baldwin Hills pharmacy and slipped the cashier a note.
"I have a gun," the paper read, according to the prosecutors' memo. "Give me all the money in the register."
The woman pointed a knife at the cashier, who authorities said grabbed about $80 — a couple of $20 bills, several fives and ones — and stuffed the cash in a brown paper bag. The woman then left.
Officers responded to the pharmacy and interviewed the cashier, who described the robber as a black woman wearing an oversized beige shirt, baggy pants and a purple scarf on her head, according to the memo. Police broadcast that description — along with a description of the knife — to other officers in the area.
Ramirez and his partner spotted a woman — later identified as Jones — wearing baggy clothing and a purple scarf on her head and trailed her as she walked down an alley. At one point, Ramirez, who was still sitting inside his black-and-white patrol car, told her to stop.
Jones kept walking, the memo said. Ramirez and his partner parked their car, jumped out and started after her on foot. At that point, the memo said, Jones pulled out a knife.
"She's got a knife in hand!" Ramirez broadcast on his radio, according to the memo. "She's running!"
The officers chased Jones down the alley, telling her to stop and drop the weapon, the memo said. At one point, prosecutors said, she stopped suddenly and charged toward Ramirez, pointing the knife at him.
Ramirez fired his gun as another officer shot a Taser. Jones died at the scene.
The note used in the robbery was underneath her body, and money — including a couple of $20 bills, several fives and ones — was in her pants pocket, the memo said. The knife was also found at the scene.
The memo from prosecutors included photos of the knife and blood-soaked note, along with a still image from the security camera footage that captured the pharmacy robbery. The footage, which was independently viewed by The Times in the days following the shooting, shows a woman wielding a knife.
The memo also included statements from three other people who were in the alley. Two men told investigators they saw officers chase Jones and saw her turn or move toward police while holding the knife.
Another witness, however, said she saw something else. The woman, who was interviewed by The Times after the shooting, told investigators she didn't see anything in Jones' hands when she was shot, and never saw her turn toward police.
Prosecutors pointed to the broadcast from Ramirez, along with the video footage from the robbery and the knife found at the scene.
"While there is a conflict between the witnesses' opinions as to what occurred just prior to the officer involved shooting, we find the overall evidence is sufficient to conclude Jones was armed with a knife, turned and advanced toward Ramirez," the memo said.
Two police cars that were parked in the alley during the shooting had cameras, the memo added, but neither were turned on until after the shooting.
7:00 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from an attorney representing Jones' family.