Deputy in Fatal Shooting Target of Racism Claim
A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot a 19-year-old Latino man last weekend at the Ramona Gardens housing project had been transferred from a sheriff’s station last year amid allegations that he was linked to a white supremacist clique of deputies, according to court records.
Deputy Jason Mann, a six-year veteran, shot and killed Arturo Jimenez early Saturday morning, touching off a disturbance at the East Los Angeles housing project.
Mann and four other deputies were transferred out of the Lynwood Station last December after allegations that several unnamed officers were members of a racist group called the “Vikings.” The organization reportedly began as a social club for deputies and evolved into a group adopting its own self-styled gang symbols as part of a harassment campaign against minorities.
In a lawsuit filed earlier this year to try to block the transfers, Mann claimed that he was wrongly linked to a clique believed to be “a cult-type gang, engaged in white supremacist activity.” He denied any involvement in racist activities.
Mann could not be reached for comment on Monday. But in his lawsuit, the 28-year-old deputy said he had never been the subject of any discipline for excessive force or similar misconduct.
“There was never any evidence whatsoever that Mann engaged in that kind of (racist) conduct,” said Richard Shinee, attorney for the Assn. of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. “The whole purpose of the lawsuit was to challenge the inference that he was linked to any such group. The department has never confronted him officially with these allegations.”
Court records also show that the other deputy involved in the incident, 35-year-old Dana Ellison, killed a man in another East Los Angeles shooting incident in 1985. Ellison shot Joseph Murillo Jr. in an abandoned house that Ellison said was used for narcotics.
The deputy said Murillo had raised a rifle at him; the weapon turned out to be an air rifle.
There is no indication in the court record that Ellison was disciplined.
Last year, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded Murillo’s parents $50,000 after they filed a wrongful death suit in their son’s death. The jury also awarded $10,000 to Murillo’s mother for emotional distress after the incident.
Two other incidents involving excessive-force allegations against Ellison led to civil lawsuits, but records indicate that one was dismissed before going to trial.
The second lawsuit resulted in a jury verdict for Ellison and three other law enforcement officers accused of beating a motorist and her sister.
Sheriff’s officials said their preliminary investigation of last weekend’s shooting found that Mann acted properly and fired on Jimenez only after his partner was attacked.
The Sheriff’s Department is continuing to investigate.
Roger Gunson, head of the district attorney’s special investigations division, said the district attorney’s office is conducting an independent investigation, as it commonly does when officers are involved in a shooting. At a meeting Monday night, about 200 residents and Latino community leaders gathered in the Ramona Gardens auditorium, and a number of speakers expressed skepticism about whether the district attorney can be impartial.
“The district attorney never prosecutes the sheriffs,” said attorney Antonio Rodriguez. “The sheriffs are their witnesses in most cases.”
Raul Ruiz, a professor of Chicano studies at Cal State Northridge, called for an independent civilian investigation like that conducted following the beating of motorist Rodney G. King by Los Angeles police officers.
“What happened to Rodney King was small compared to what happened to Arturo,” said Ruiz. “King was hurt. Arturo was killed.”
The death of Jimenez led to a confrontation between 75 sheriff’s deputies and a hostile crowd of about 300 residents of Ramona Gardens.
According to sheriff’s officials, it was Jimenez who precipitated the violence that led to his death.
Authorities said both Mann and Ellison had stopped momentarily outside a birthday celebration shortly after 1:35 a.m. and were driving away when their patrol car was struck by a bottle.
When the deputies returned to investigate, Jimenez assaulted Ellison with a beer bottle and took Ellison’s flashlight and knocked him unconscious with it, the Sheriff’s Department said.
After ordering Jimenez to drop the flashlight, Mann fired three shots into his chest, the department said.
Mann has been routinely reassigned to administrative duties while an investigation continues into the shooting, said Deputy Fidel Gonzales, a spokesman for the department.
“He has not been disciplined or punished,” said Gonzales. “He has been taken out of the field. That’s just the normal procedure.”
The Sheriff’s office also announced that it is investigating the arrest of Salvador Salas, who made a videotape recording immediately after the shooting. Salas’ video, which was confiscated, did not show the shooting and was being returned to him, officials said.
Portions of the videotape were played on television for the first time Monday night, and the dimly lit scenes largely depicted people milling around while others sought to administer help to Jimenez on the ground.
Meanwhile, residents continued to dispute the department’s version of events, saying the shooting was unjustified and challenging the assertion that the deputies entered the housing project during a car pursuit.
“I didn’t hear a car chase,” said Christina Sanchez, who lives near the shooting scene. “They came in here quietly with no lights on. There was no car chase.”
James Weathers, 20, a self-described gang member, said that immediately after the shooting, Mann was apologizing for his actions. “He said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. . . . I didn’t mean it,’ ” he said.
Jimenez’s mother, Elva Jimenez, acknowledged Monday that her son, known as Smokey, was a gang member. But she contended that he and his friends only listened to music and drank and never hurt people.
Jimenez had his troubles with the law, records show. He pleaded guilty last January to felony charges of PCP possession and of taking a car without the consent of the owner in 1990. He was sentenced a year in County Jail and three years’ probation, but was credited with time already served.
Last year, he also pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor drug charges and a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest and battery on a peace officer.
At a news conference Monday at the housing project, Councilman Richard Alatorre said he met with officials from the sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office to seek assurances that the shooting would be thoroughly investigated. As he spoke, Alatorre sat on an auditorium stage next to Jimenez’s mother, who dabbed at her eyes with a paper towel while at least two dozen young men and women stood behind them holding signs that said: “Killers Behind a Badge” and “Killing in the Name of the Law.”
Alatorre said he was concerned with “not just the shooting but why the sheriffs were in an area normally patrolled by the Police Department.” The housing project is within the jurisdiction of the city Police Department, but borders Sheriff’s Department territory.
Fire Department personnel also came under criticism after witnesses claimed that it took up to half an hour for an ambulance to arrive to treat Jimenez.
Officials said they could not immediately retrieve the tapes of radio communications.
The Sheriff’s office said the deputies requested an ambulance at 1:38 a.m.
Paramedics were dispatched at 1:41 and were at Jimenez’ side 10 minutes later, said Los Angeles City Fire Department Assistant Chief Ed Allen. His statement, he said, is based on the computerized dispatch records and the written report by paramedics.
Allen said the emergency report filed by the two paramedics who dealt with Jimenez stated they found “zero signs of life” at 1:51 a.m. when they reached him and “had no response” when they performed an electrocardiogram. “They pronounced him dead at 1:56 a.m.” Allen said.
Allen said the paramedics’ report said “due to the hostile crowd” sheriffs’ deputies ordered them to move Jimenez’s body to a command post at Medford and Fowler streets. They did not actually remove the body until ordered to do so by the Los Angeles County Coroner at 4:45 a.m. Allen said the other responding units, including a fire engine and another paramedic ambulance, were told to remain in the area, but outside Ramona Gardens, in case anyone else was injured or shot.
While Mann was reassigned to other duties, Ellison, a 10-year veteran, was recuperating at home from a concussion, facial cuts and a broken finger, said sheriff’s officials.
The Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on the disciplinary record of either man.
According to his court declaration, Mann joined the department in June, 1985, and was first assigned to the Inmate Reception Center at County Jail, where he worked for three years. In October, 1988, he was assigned to patrol duty at Lynwood station.
“During my tenure at the Lynwood substation, I have not been the subject of any administrative investigation, discipline or counseling with respect to any allegations of misconduct,” he said.
But attorneys who filed a massive civil rights lawsuit last year against Mann and other Lynwood deputies claimed that the law enforcement officers often threatened and terrorized residents, many of whom were minorities and either current or former gang members. As one of the named deputies, Mann was accused of helping drag one man off a porch and hitting him with a metal flashlight, and beating another with “a billy club"--charges that he and other deputies vehemently denied.
However, when the Long Beach Press-Telegram first published stories describing the “Vikings” at Lynwood, Mann and some of the other deputies said the station’s commander reacted by transferring those who were considered the primary troublemakers.
Times staff writers Stephen Braun and John H. Lee contributed to this story.