The fatal shooting by deputies of a mentally ill man in Ladera Heights was recorded on audiotape by one of the deputies at the scene, the Sheriff's Department disclosed Friday.
A Sheriff's Department spokesman would not reveal what the tape contains, but said it would be central to the investigation into the death of Keith Hamilton, 33, who was found to be schizophrenic and had recently been under court order to stay away from his mother's house, where the shooting occurred.
"There is a tape and it is being held as evidence," said Lt. Jeff Springs, a sheriff's spokesman. "It is a very significant piece of evidence."
For that reason, Springs said, he doubted that the recording's contents would be made public soon.
It was unclear how much of the incident was recorded, but a source close to the case said the tape picked up shouting before gunfire erupted. It is common, Springs said, for deputies to carry pocket-size micro-tape recorders to help them remember details for their reports or to protect them from spurious misconduct complaints.
The deputy switched on the tape when the call on Hamilton went out, Springs said.
Springs could not say if information gleaned from the tape had anything to do with a decision Thursday night to relieve Deputies Kelly Enos and Paul McCready from duty with pay.
"The only response we can give you right now is it was just pending the outcome of the investigation," he said. "We are not prepared to tell you why right now.
He said the decision was not punitive, adding that "if it was punitive, it would cost them money."
Normally, deputies involved in shootings are relieved of field duty for at least five days, but are permitted to work desk jobs. Springs said that in some instances, deputies are relieved of all duties.
"Sometimes we protect the department and the community and the deputies involved by not allowing them to get involved in anything else that may exacerbate the situation," Springs said. "Or sometimes it happens that in some cases something inappropriate has occurred. In this case, I don't know which is applied here--either or both."
Enos, a three-year veteran who is normally assigned to the Lynwood sheriff's station, had been working out of the Marina del Rey station since June, when a number of deputies from other parts of the county were assigned there for summer duty.
McCready is a four-year veteran who was severely beaten in a recent incident for which few details were provided. Springs could only say that the incident happened "a couple of months ago" and that McCready was beaten unconscious and hospitalized.
Neither of the deputies could be reached for comment.
The shooting occurred shortly after 10 p.m. Tuesday after Hamilton arrived at his mother's house on West Slauson Avenue and began ranting in the back yard. The landlord, who lives in the same triplex as Hamilton's mother, called the Marina del Rey sheriff's station to complain that Hamilton had violated the restraining order.
Within minutes, Hamilton's mother, Clara Maxie, also called the station complaining that her son had become difficult to control.
What followed is disputed, with the Sheriff's Department saying that Hamilton fought with the officers and was reaching for a knife in his belt when he was shot. Hamilton's family and two neighbors contend that Hamilton had only refused to leave the premises and did not attack the deputies.
A sheriff's supervisor fired two Taser electric darts at Hamilton before Enos and McCready fired a total of nine shots.
One witness contends that the deputies placed a metallic object on or near Hamilton's body after he was shot.
The family has called for an independent investigation of the shooting and a Christopher Commission-like inquiry into the Sheriff's Department.
They are so distrustful of the county's ability to conduct an impartial investigation that they have hired an independent pathologist to observe the autopsy on Hamilton's body. The autopsy was postponed until today to accommodate the family.
The lawyer for the family said that Hamilton had, until a few years ago, worked as a stock clerk at a Sav-On drugstore. He had to quit work, according to attorney Geraldine Green, when his mental illness became severe. Hamilton lived on a Social Security disability payments.
Green said Hamilton had not taken the medication that controlled his behavior on the day he died.
In recent months, he had caused increasing troubles for his family, who feared that they would be evicted because of his behavior.
In early June, his mother obtained a temporary restraining order requiring Hamilton to stay 100 yards away from her, her daughter, and their home.
In documents filed in Santa Monica Superior Court, Maxie said that her son's behavior made her very uncomfortable and that she and her daughter were "worried that he may become violent toward us when he next loses his temper."
Hamilton was found to be a schizophrenic "about 11 years ago," Maxie's court application for the temporary restraining order said, and had been getting treatment and medication at the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center.
Hamilton's mother said he had moved out of the home last Christmas, but had returned the next month "to live in my garage without my permission." Her landlord had told her "that my neighbors are complaining about (Hamilton), especially that (he) urinates outdoors."
Maxie said in the court documents that her son was not abusive to her, but "will talk to himself using profane language. . . . He also screams at the television when watching certain programs."
"I have repeatedly asked him to move out, but he refuses to leave--except for a brief stay in jail. . . ." On April 19, Hamilton was arrested on charges of vandalism and resisting arrest after a passerby allegedly saw him break an optometrist's office window. Hamilton pleaded guilty, was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay $120 restitution. He was ordered to report to court June 25 to show proof that he made restitution. But he did not appear and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
It was still in effect at the time of his death.
Times staff writer Dean E. Murphy contributed to this story