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Partner Says Officer Fired Gun in Anger : Police Inquiry Into Death of Immigrant Told of Street Fight

Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles police officer accused of fatally shooting a 30-year-old Cuban immigrant in the back did so because he was angry that the man had beaten him with his own baton in a street scuffle in South-Central Los Angeles, the officer’s partner told a police tribunal Monday.

Nervous and often barely audible, Officer Daniel Perez testified that Officer Rodney W. Kelley shot Miguel Angel Herrera on Oct. 24, 1984, after Herrera wrested Kelley’s baton from him and hit him with it.

However, Perez testified that it was only when Herrera turned to run away that Kelley, 26, drew his service revolver, dropped to one knee and fired. Herrera’s body was found an hour later behind a wall in the yard of an apartment complex near Kenwood Avenue and 30th Street.

An autopsy showed that Herrera had been hit in the lower back by one of three shots fired by Kelley.

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‘Why Did I Do That?’

As other officers searched for Herrera’s body on the night of the shooting, a shaken Kelley asked Perez, “Why did I do that?” Perez, 26, testified. He said he told Kelley it was because he was angry ". . . because you lost the battle. I think you shot him in the back.”

The witness said Kelley angrily denied he was upset and rested his hand on the butt of his gun--a gesture that Perez said he interpreted as possibly threatening.

The Police Department contends that Kelley violated a department policy that forbids officers from “unnecessarily discharging” their weapons.

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Kelley, whose hearing continues today, also has been charged with offering “false and misleading” statements to officers investigating Herrera’a death.

In addition, Kelley has been charged with insubordination by refusing to testify last month at Perez’s Board of Rights hearing in the same shooting. The board gave Perez a six-month suspension without pay for lying to internal affairs investigators. He initially supported much of Kelley’s self-defense version, but later recanted his statement to detectives, the department alleged.

Other witnesses have said that Kelley and Perez, both four-year veterans, stopped Herrera for questioning and then beat him without apparent cause with a baton and a metal flashlight before Kelley gunned him down from behind as he fled.

Kelley, who faces dismissal and possible criminal charges, formally pleaded innocent Monday to violating any department policy.

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The officer’s attorney, Barry L. Levin, argued that Herrera became combative when Kelley handcuffed him. In the ensuing scuffle, in which both Kelley and Perez fell to the ground, the 5-foot-5, 135-pound Herrera gained control of Kelley’s side-handle baton and swung it wildly, Levin said.

Herrera, who had a long criminal history--both in Cuba and the United States, to which he immigrated in 1980--was about to deliver a “possible death blow” when the 6-foot, 140-pound Kelley was forced to fire, Levin said. The bullet entered Herrera’s back because he was twisting his torso at the time, the attorney said.

“He is certain that he shot at Herrera’s chest while he (Kelley) was on the ground,” Levin told the three police captains presiding over the hearing.

Kelley quickly fired again as Herrera ran away and then gave chase, firing a third time as Herrera scaled the wall behind which his body was found, Perez and others have said.

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Bruce L. Danto, a Fullerton psychiatrist who examined Kelley, testified Monday that the officer was so terrified by the frenzied expression on Herrera’s face, that he “kept seeing the face, even though (Herrera’s body) may have been positioned in an oblique or tangential way. As far as he was concerned, he was face to face throughout, and he shot face to face,” Danto said. “He was fighting for his life. That’s the way Officer Kelley saw it.”

Perez saw it otherwise.

He said he had drawn his gun but began to holster it as Herrera began to flee.

“When I looked down, that’s when I heard the first shot,” Perez told the board. Kelley, he said, fired from a range of between five and eight feet. The second shot came at a distance of between 20 and 25 feet. “Every time I looked at Herrera, his back was to us,” Perez said.

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