A North Hollywood man who was mistaken for a suspected drug dealer was shot and critically injured by a plainclothes police officer after the man refused to raise his hands and then reached into his waistband for what the officer thought was a gun, authorities said Wednesday.
Police said Robert Morgan, 32, who had actually been reaching for a butcher knife, was shot in the back about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday in an alley off the 5400 block of Colfax Avenue in North Hollywood. He was listed in critical condition at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.
There was no evidence that Morgan was involved in the drug operation that the officer had been scouting at a nearby house, police said.
Morgan was shot by Officer Steven Galleria, 32, who had gone with his partner, whose name was not released, to the nearby 5400 block of Troost Avenue to observe a house where a suspected methamphetamine sales operation was based, said Lt. William Hall of the officer involved shooting unit.
The officers were trying to find out if a suspected drug dealer was home so a raid could be conducted, Hall said. The officers had been shown a picture of the suspected dealer, John McHugh, 53, and told that he was known to carry a handgun, Hall said.
Soon after the officers left their car in the alley off Colfax Avenue and walked to the Troost Avenue house, Morgan approached them from the house’s yard, Hall said.
Told to Leave
Morgan told the two officers to leave the area, and the officers, believing they had been confronted by McHugh, walked back to their car. Morgan followed them into the alley and looked inside the car before walking away, Hall said.
“The officers felt the suspect had identified them as undercover officers and if he was allowed to return to the house would abort any attempt to effectively serve the search warrant,” Hall said.
The officers approached Morgan, identified themselves, showed their badges and told him to raise his hands, Hall said.
“Morgan faced the officers and very deliberately unbuttoned his jacket and thrust both hands into his waistband,” Hall said. “Morgan then turned away from officers and initially refused to raise his hands. After several commands he raised one hand and suddenly turned his torso while making a movement with his other hand, which was still inserted in his waistband.”
Hall said Galleria believed the man was attempting to pull a gun from his waistband and fired five times at him.
After the shooting, the officers determined that the man was not the drug suspect but lived in an apartment building behind the suspected drug house, Hall said.
Other officers called to the scene searched the Troost Avenue house and seized a small amount of drugs and some paraphernalia, Hall said. McHugh was arrested at the house on suspicion of possession of narcotics for sale, Hall said.