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Nine Shots in the Back : Autopsy report underscores anew need for thorough look at Sheriff’s Dept.

Nine shots in the back. That’s how a mentally disturbed Ladera Heights man died last month at the hands of Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, according to the autopsy report. What’s more, several bullets apparently struck his body as he lay “against the pavement or concrete in the face-down position.”

Now contrast that with the original report from the department. It made no mention of Keith Hamilton being shot while face down; it made no mention of the numerous head, mouth, elbow and knee injuries he suffered. The department merely reported--in incredibly vague language that made no reference to the head, elbow and knee injuries--that Hamilton, 33, was shot twice with an electric stun gun and that “a fight ensued . . . resulting with the suspect being shot by deputies.”

The sealed autopsy report, obtained by The Times, paints a deeply disturbing picture of the death of Hamilton, a former mental patient whose mother called deputies to report she was having trouble with him.

In short, deputies said they shot him--on one occasion officials said nine times, then another time they said eight--because he had become combative and they believed he was reaching for a knife. However, the autopsy report said that several bullets ricocheted inside his body--meaning the front part of his body must have been pressed against a hard surface, consistent with being face down against the pavement. No illegal drugs were found in his system.

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The Hamilton case and two other recent fatal shootings by deputies deserve to be getting the scrutiny they are under a preliminary FBI investigation. And the autopsy report represents another reason Sheriff Sherman Block has no luxury of time in pushing his special advisory committee to study and recommend obviously needed reforms in the department.

In order to reinstill confidence, those reforms must be thorough and timely and must provide a whole lot more credible answers than anyone seems to be giving at this distressing moment.


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