Deputies Shot Man 9 Times in Back, Autopsy Shows : Law enforcement: Former mental patient was lying face-down, according to copy of sealed coroner’s report.
A mentally disturbed man who was killed last month by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies was shot nine times in the back, with several of the bullets apparently striking his body as he lay “against the pavement or concrete in a face-down position,” according to a copy of the sealed autopsy report obtained Wednesday by The Times.
The county coroner’s report also shows that 33-year-old Keith Hamilton suffered numerous head, mouth, elbow, and knee injuries--which his family’s attorney says indicate that deputies struck Hamilton with batons.
The original incident report from the Sheriff’s Department makes no mention of Hamilton being shot while face down, nor of his other injuries. The report, also obtained by The Times, simply states that he was shot twice with an electric stun gun, and that “a fight ensued . . . resulting with the suspect being shot by deputies.”
“This was an unjustified, senseless homicide by deputies who overreacted,” said Steve Lerman, attorney for Hamilton’s family.
Lerman, who also is representing Rodney G. King, characterized the Hamilton shooting as “much more revolting” than what happened March 3 during the videotaped beating of King by Los Angeles police officers.
“What was this guy doing face down on the ground, and then being shot nine times?” Lerman asked. “He must have been slapping around down there like a salmon out of water, and yet with each shot they kept wasting him.”
Officials with the Sheriff’s Department have previously acknowledged that Hamilton was shot nine times, but have said only that he was struck in the “upper part of his body.” They also have said that during the struggle with Hamilton, the Ladera Heights man grabbed one deputy’s leg and was reaching for a knife when the deputies felt compelled to open fire.
Asked Wednesday to comment about the autopsy findings, sheriff’s officials noted that the coroner’s report is closed from public inspection and that they have been ordered not to discuss the shooting. “I can’t make any response, other than what we have already said about the incident,” said Sgt. Sam Jones, a sheriff’s spokesman.
The autopsy report was ordered sealed last week by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation as both agencies conduct criminal investigations to determine whether any deputies should be prosecuted in the Aug. 13 incident.
The coroner’s findings on Hamilton were sealed, along with those on three other controversial shootings in which citizens were recently killed by law officers. Of the other three victims, David Angel Ortiz and Steve Clemons were shot in the back of the neck by sheriff’s deputies, while Darryl Stephens was shot in the upper torso by a West Covina Police Department SWAT team.
Hamilton was black; the deputies who shot him are white. His death is one of a series of cases that have raised concerns about police brutality against minorities.
According to the sheriff’s original report, two deputies responded to Hamilton’s home in the 5300 block of West Slauson in Ladera Heights after receiving a call about a disturbance involving the former mental patient. They found “the suspect (Hamilton) pulling on the security bars on the back door of the house.”
“When the suspect noticed the deputies’ presence, he became combative, flailing his arms and screaming obscenities,” the sheriff’s report said. “The suspect also made several irrational statements and disregarded Deputy (John) Blenker’s request to calm down.
“Deputy Blenker and Deputy (Rossanna) Taylor saw that the suspect had a knife and a ‘fanny pack’ in the front of his waistband. Deputy Blenker attempted to restrain the suspect, and the suspect broke free. Deputy Blenker then requested assistance via his hand-held 480 radio.”
The report said five other deputies, including a sergeant, arrived.
“Sgt. (David) Hogan ordered the suspect to lay on the ground,” the sheriff’s report said. “The suspect refused. Sgt. Hogan discharged the Taser (stun gun), striking the suspect. The suspect fell to the ground and attempted to pull the Taser darts from his body.
“The suspect then tried to stand. Sgt. Hogan again discharged the Taser, striking the suspect.”
The report said: “The deputies on the scene attempted to restrain the suspect. A fight ensued involving the deputies and sergeant, resulting with the suspect being shot by deputies.”
Sheriff’s officials have said that Deputy Paul McCready, 27, fired six times and that Deputy Kelly Enos fired three rounds, both with their 9-millimeter Berettas. McCready and Enos have been relieved of duty with pay.
A follow-up sheriff’s report, also obtained by The Times, said homicide detectives found the body in a “prone position, handcuffed and hogtied.”
The follow-up report also notes that Hamilton only reportedly produced a knife from his waistband, and it states that he was shot eight, rather than nine, times in the back.
However, one witness has said that after the shooting, two deputies disappeared from the scene, and returned with a metallic object that one placed either next to or under Hamilton’s body.
The coroner’s autopsy report states that a knife was found “to the left of decedent” and that the weapon was recovered by detectives at the scene.
The autopsy report also describes each of the nine bullet wounds, and how each projectile traveled from back to front in Hamilton’s body. Two bullets entered his upper back shoulder area, six struck him in the middle of the back, and the ninth wound entry was in the center of his lower back, or hip area.
The coroner also found that several of the bullets ricocheted inside his body, meaning that the front part of his body must have been pressed up against a hard surface that prevented the bullets from coming out of the body.
“Several of the projectiles appear to have ricocheted within the anterior abdominal wall in association with the decedent’s abdomen being against (the) pavement or concrete in a face-down position,” the autopsy report said.
The report also noted that a flattened bullet casing was found at the spot where one of the gunshot wounds should have exited. The coroner said this was “very consistent with impact against pavement or concrete.”
A toxicology report done by the coroner’s office detected no illegal drugs such as cocaine or barbiturates in his system, and only a trace of methamphetamine was found in his urine.
However the sheriff’s follow-up report stated that Hamilton “appeared to be under the influence of drugs.”
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