Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell has scheduled a news conference Sunday to discuss the fatal shooting by sheriff’s deputies of a man wielding a gun at a busy Lynwood intersection, an incident caught on a dramatic video that has sparked protests in the neighborhood.
The sheriff and homicide detectives will discuss the shooting at a news conference at 11 a.m. at the Hall of Justice downtown. A group of civil rights organizations are planning their own news conference and are calling for a meeting with McDonnell.
The activists they want the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the shooting and launch a broader probe into the use of force by the Sheriff’s Department.
The video showed deputies repeatedly firing at the man, even after he fell to the ground. The Sheriff's Department said the man had fired shots into the air and pointed the weapon at the deputies before they opened fire. Officials also said they recovered a loaded .45-caliber handgun at the scene.
The incident comes amid increasing public scrutiny over police-involved shootings both in the Los Angeles area and nationwide. Over the last two years, the Los Angeles Police Department has dealt with several controversial shootings by officers, including one involving an unarmed homeless man on skid row that was also captured on video. That case is still under investigation.
McDonnell urged caution in drawing conclusions about Saturday's shooting from the video.
“In this modern age of cellphone video and instant analysis on the Internet, I would ask that we keep in mind that a thorough and comprehensive investigation is detailed and time-intensive,” McDonnell said in a statement. “It will involve not just one source of information, but numerous sources, potentially including multiple videos, physical evidence and eyewitness accounts.”
About 11 a.m., Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies responded to a call of shots fired near the busy intersection of Long Beach Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue, said Cmdr. Keith Swensson.
When deputies arrived at the scene, they commanded the man multiple times to drop the gun, officials said. When he refused, they opened fire.
The department also released a more detailed narrative, stating that there are witnesses who say “they saw the suspect turn and point the gun at the deputies prior to the shooting.”
The statement also said the deputies were sent to the scene after the department received “multiple emergency calls.”
Swensson said the suspect was holding the weapon when he was shot at a gas station.
“We still have to question several witnesses,” he said. “As well as the deputies involved.”
The suspect, whose name has not been released by the Sheriff's Department, was pronounced dead at the scene. No deputies were injured. Relatives identified the suspect as Nicholas Robertson, 28.
At the shooting site, more than a dozen people gathered in protest Saturday evening, holding signs and yelling into megaphones, “No more stolen lives!” Helmet-clad deputies formed a line and looked on, and one recorded the scene with a video camera.
Relatives who saw the video said the shooting seemed unjustified to them.
“They shot him,” said Tracy Brown, 47, of Lynwood, a relative of the suspect's wife. “They shot him; as he crawled, they continued to shoot him.”
Nekeisha Robertson, described by relatives as the suspect's wife, sobbed uncontrollably as her uncle, Tracy Brown, shouted to police, “He ain't getting away with it!”
Brown said Nicholas Robertson graduated from Lynwood High School and took good care of his three children.
Relatives said they didn't know anything about Robertson carrying a gun.
In the 29-second video obtained by KTLA and filmed from a restaurant across the street, a sheriff's deputy follows Robertson as he appears to be walking away from the deputy.
According to authorities, witnesses said that moments before, Robertson turned and pointed the gun at the deputies.
At least a dozen gunshots are then heard, and Robertson falls to the ground. He drags himself on the ground alongside an Arco gas station.
A brief pause in gunfire follows, then shots begin once more.
When the camera pans back, two deputies can be seen a few yards way, both with arms up, pointing their weapons in Robertson's direction.
Seth Stoughton, a criminal law professor at the University of South Carolina and a former Tampa, Fla., police officer, said there are circumstances under which an officer can shoot at a suspect walking away from them. “If the deputies reasonably believe the suspect with a firearm presents a danger by walking toward a gas station with vehicles and bystanders, they would be justified in using deadly force.
“It does not strike me as egregious like [the] Walter Scott video here in South Carolina.... If the suspect wasn't armed or they didn't have a solid basis for that belief, that would more problematic,” Stoughton said. More facts, he cautioned, are needed to determine what occurred outside the video.
Once the suspect is on the ground, how close the gun is to him is key in whether shots are justified, he added.
Authorities did not release additional details about the shooting. They are searching for any additional evidence or videos of the incident, Swensson said.
Experts familiar with use-of-force cases said deputies will need to explain why they opened fire and continued to shoot as Robertson was on the ground.
“They are going to have to articulate why they made every one of those shots,” said Ed Obayashi, an Inyo County deputy and an attorney. “They must show they reasonably used deadly force.”
Sid Heal, a retired Los Angeles County sheriff's commander who testifies in lethal force cases, said that to use deadly force, an officer or deputy must see a suspect as an imminent threat to police or the public.
“The video suggests they believe he had a gun,” Heal said. “And they continue to shoot when he was on the ground, so that suggests they believe he was reaching for a weapon.”
In coming weeks, a multi-agency investigation will take place that will include the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and the sheriff's Homicide Bureau and Internal Affairs Bureau, officials stated in a release.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact the Sheriff's Department's Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500. Anonymous tips can be made to Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477, or by texting the letters TIPLA plus the tip to 274637, or by visiting the website http://lacrime
Times staff writer Cindy Chang contributed to this report.