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Data About Officer-Involved Shooting Probes Disputed

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s officer-involved shooting team on Thursday defended the integrity of his unit’s investigations and said a key criticism of them leveled by the Christopher Commission is false.

Lt. William Hall disputed a commission finding that officers at shooting scenes are “frequently gathered together and interviewed as a group,” which the commission said was “an opportunity for witnesses to ‘get their stories straight.’ ”

Hall said: ‘We don’t--and haven’t since 1982--interviewed officers together. (Doing so led to) valid criticism and I guess that’s why we changed. But it’s not a valid criticism these days.” Hall said he goes to “almost all” of the shooting scenes himself.

Hall, who has headed the shooting unit since 1987, also complained that he had not been interviewed by the Christopher Commission.

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Christopher Commission staff attorneys stood by the commission’s report, which concluded that LAPD shooting investigations continue to be seriously flawed.

Informed of Hall’s statements, Gary A. Feess, the deputy general counsel who helped prepare the report’s section on officer-involved shootings, said: “I’m not going to withdraw anything I told you.”

Feess was referring to comments he made in an interview Wednesday that the principal complaint against the LAPD’s techniques is that they offer “an opportunity to eliminate inconsistencies in a manner that’s not designed to get to the truth.” However, he acknowledged that criticisms about such techniques were more frequently heard in the years before Hall took over the unit.

Feess said Wednesday that the commission based its conclusions on a review of more than 80 city attorney litigation files of civil lawsuits the city lost, a “significant number” of which concerned officer-involved shootings. In addition, he said, investigators interviewed officers and prosecutors, and reviewed LAPD policy manuals and other documents.

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Feess’ unwillingness to discuss the matter further on Thursday apparently reflected a decision by the commission or its key staff to avoid public disputes with individual police officers.

The commission’s general counsel, John Spiegel, explained: “Rather than respond to what an officer has told you, we’re going to try to do this in a disciplined, careful way, and hopefully obtain from the (police) department a full statement of any reactions they have, including any views they have that anything in our report is inaccurate or incomplete.”

Deputy Dist. Atty. Roger Gunson, who supervises a unit that sends investigators to the scene of all LAPD shootings, said he could shed no light on which side is correct.

He said that by the time district attorney representatives are told in detail by the LAPD what has occurred, the LAPD has already completed its investigation and the involved officers have often left the shooting scene. Whether the police officers were “put together or not, we don’t have access to that,” Gunson said. He said, however, that district attorney representatives have, “on occasion,” seen officers being questioned separately.

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Hall said the primary purpose of his unit is to do administrative investigations, which, among other things, allow an officer’s tactics to be critiqued by his superiors.

He said there has been no criminal investigation since he took over in 1987.

Under state law, officers are entitled to shoot in self-defense or in defense of others, to stop someone from committing a felony, or to stop someone who has committed an atrocious felony from fleeing.

With those entitlements, “you would almost have to go out there with malice in your heart (for a police shooting) to become criminal,” Hall said. “The officers are for the most part not doing that. They’re out there to do their job and they make a split-second decision whether to use deadly force.”

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