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Family, Others Blast Slaying by Deputies

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The family of a mental patient killed by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies charged Thursday that the slaying was “unwarranted,” and they called for an independent investigation and a Christopher Commission-style examination of the Sheriff’s Department.

Relatives of the slain man, Keith Hamilton, 33, said that if they had realized deputies might harm him, they would not have called the department Tuesday night for assistance. Hamilton’s mother called deputies after her son failed to take his medicine and grew belligerent, family members said through their lawyer.

“The family is devastated because they initiated the call,” said the lawyer, Geraldine Green. “Never in their wildest dreams did they expect that he would wind up dead.”

Two deputies fired nine shots at Hamilton in the rear yard of his mother’s home in Ladera Heights. The deputies reported that they opened fire as they and five other officers scuffled with Hamilton and saw him reaching for a knife at his waist.

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Two neighbors who say they viewed the incident from their windows dispute that account. They said Hamilton had been subdued with an electric stun gun when the deputies kicked and beat him and then shot him.

Hank A. Williams, a retired Air Force officer who lives next door to Hamilton’s mother, said two deputies disappeared from sight after the shooting and returned with a metallic object that one placed either next to or under Hamilton’s body.

Green, who said she believes the object was the knife later found by deputies, said the second witness was afraid of retaliation from deputies and did not want his name made public.

Sheriff Sherman Block, confronted with Green’s allegations Thursday morning at a community center dedication held at a shopping center in Ladera Heights, would not comment on them, saying an investigation was ongoing.

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Asked if it was possible that a knife had been planted on Hamilton, Block said: “I think somebody either embellished what they saw or saw something that didn’t exist.”

He discounted the family’s call for an outside investigation of the shooting and for an independent body to review policies and practices of the Sheriff’s Department. The Los Angeles Police Department underwent such a review this year after the March 3 videotaped police beating of black motorist Rodney G. King in Lake View Terrace by white police officers.

The Los Angeles police review, conducted by a 10-member panel of business, academic and legal community leaders and headed by former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher, determined that significant racism, sexism and brutality existed in the LAPD and had not been rooted out by Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and other department administrators.

“There is no need for a Christopher Commission,” Block said.

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Green and some members of the unincorporated Ladera Heights community disagreed. Jerry Schmidt, a former president of the Ladera Civic Assn., a group of about 1,800 homeowners, said it is “ridiculous” to expect the Sheriff’s Department to impartially investigate itself.

“A preponderence of killings by the Sheriff’s Department have been (racial) minorities,” Schmidt said. “That is not a coincidence or an accident. I would like to see an independent commission investigate.”

Hamilton was black. The deputies who shot him are white.

Green also noted what she described as racial factors. She cited a series of recent shootings involving deputies, including the Aug. 3 killing of Arturo Jimenez, a 19-year-old Latino in the Ramona Gardens housing project. In that case, witnesses also disputed deputies’ accounts of the incident.

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Even though a Sheriff’s Department investigation into Jimenez’s death is not complete, Block said he is confidant it will show that the deputies acted properly.

The following is the Sheriff’s Department account of the Hamilton shooting based on press releases and statements by department personnel Wednesday and Thursday:

Hamilton’s mother called the Marina del Rey sheriff’s station shortly after 10 p.m. Tuesday to report that she was having a difficult time controlling Hamilton. When two deputies arrived, they found Hamilton in the back yard of the triplex in the 5300 block of West Slauson where his mother lives.

The former mental patient was agitated, uncooperative and had a folding knife in a sheath on his belt. Deputies later claimed they recovered a sheath as well as the knife. Deputies said they believed Hamilton might be under the influence of PCP. An autopsy is scheduled for today. Toxicology tests also will be conducted.

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The deputies called for backup and four deputies and a supervisor responded. The supervisor, a sergeant, fired two electrical darts at Hamilton, but the darts had little or no apparent effect on him. Hamilton struck one of the deputies in the face and “fought wildly.” After the deputies forced him to the ground, he “grabbed the left leg” of one of the deputies with one hand and reached toward the knife with the other.

Two of the officers, identified as Kelly Enos, 26, and Paul McCready, 27, opened fire on Hamilton. Enos fired three shots; McCready six.

Hamilton, wounded in his upper body, was pronounced dead at the scene.

One deputy, Edward O’Neil, was treated at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood for minor eye and knee bruises and released.

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The accounts given to Green by Hamilton’s mother and the two neighbors are strikingly different from the Sheriff’s Department’s version.

Hamilton’s mother, Clara Maxie, said she called deputies because her son had become argumentative and would not leave the home, which was not his residence.

Two deputies arrived, a man and a woman. The woman, Maxie said, was able to calm Hamilton down considerably. But when he was asked to leave the premises, he refused, Maxie said, and the deputies called for backup.

Four other deputies and a sergeant arrived a few minutes later, about the same time as a Sheriff’s Department helicopter that circled overhead with a spotlight on the scene. The backup deputies arrived with their guns drawn and one attempted to grab Hamilton, the mother said.

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When Hamilton backed away, the sergeant fired the first electric dart, knocking him to the ground, she said. The second dart left him immobile.

At this point, Hamilton’s mother was ordered into her house.

According to Green, the unidentified witness reported that the deputies, for no apparent reason, began kicking and beating Hamilton and then opening fire.

The deputies then handcuffed and hogtied Hamilton, both witnesses reported to Green.

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According to Williams, the Air Force retiree, two deputies briefly left the scene then returned, one of them wiping an object that appeared to be metallic. One of the deputies bent down and placed the object near or under the body, Williams said.

Green said that as far as Hamilton’s family knew, he did not have a knife before the incident. Family members also did not believe he was under the influence of PCP or any other drug, as deputies alleged.

Hamilton, Green said, did have a history of mental problems and had at least one other encounter with police, earlier this year, in which she said he received a fine.

An upstairs neighbor told The Times that Hamilton’s mother had in the past called deputies to calm her son down when he failed to take his medicine and became belligerent.

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