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Deputy’s Fatal Shot Struck Man in Back, Coroner’s Report Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A man slain by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies at Willowbrook Park was shot once in the upper back and may have run because he had a small plastic bag containing marijuana, according to a coroner’s report released Friday.

The autopsy, which had been sealed since the Labor Day shooting, shows that 27-year-old Steve Clemons died from a single bullet that struck him at the base of his neck, about 10 inches below the top of his head. A 9-millimeter slug was recovered from the tissue in his neck about an inch above the entrance wound, the report says.

A toxicological analysis shows Clemons had a blood-alcohol level of 0.11%, just above the legal limit of 0.08% for driving. Although no other drugs were found in his system, the report indicates that his brother told investigators Clemons had a $10 bag of marijuana.

An attorney representing Clemons’ family said the autopsy confirmed their contention that Clemons had been surrendering to deputies and did not pose a threat when he was shot.

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“There is no death penalty for running away from an officer, at least the last time I checked,” said Carl E. Douglas, a senior associate at the law offices of Johnnie L. Cochran. “This sheriff’s deputy was the judge, jury and black-hooded executioner all at once.”

The Sheriff’s Department, which had not previously disclosed where the bullet struck Clemons, declined to comment because the investigation is still going on. A spokesman, however, said the information contained in the autopsy is consistent with what detectives learned at the shooting scene.

“That is nothing new,” said Sgt. Robert Stoneman. “This doesn’t send them off in a different direction. It doesn’t change what they’ve been working on.”

The fatal shooting, which was the latest of four controversial shootings of suspects by deputies in the course of a month, is being investigated by the FBI for possible civil rights violations.

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Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner on Thursday also announced that the Los Angeles County Grand Jury will investigate all four of the deaths, but stopped short of saying whether he would ask for indictments against any of the deputies involved.

The Willowbrook Park shooting occurred on Sept. 2 shortly after 4 p.m., when deputies from the Carson station on routine patrol were alerted by a family complaining of an alleged gang disturbance.

As two of the deputies neared the scene, they said they saw Clemons run and assumed he was the target of the complaint. According to an account of the incident contained in the autopsy, Clemons was confronted at the lake’s edge, pulled a gun out of his waistband and dropped it on the ground. He then picked the gun up and pointed it at a deputy, who fired one round from his semiautomatic pistol.

“After sustaining a gunshot wound to the back, the decedent threw the weapon into the lake,” the report says. “Scuba divers searched the lake waters and recovered a .25-caliber weapon several hours later.”

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Sheriff’s officials identified the officer as Deputy Michael Staley, 37, a six-year veteran of the department.

Clemons, a father of four, had ridden his bicycle to the park from his apartment at the Nickerson Gardens housing project and had been playing dominoes for about an hour when deputies arrived, according to his family.

Douglas conceded Clemons might have run if, in fact, he had marijuana. He also confirmed that civilian witnesses saw Clemons throw something into the lake. However, the attorney said some onlookers reported seeing Clemons with his hands empty and arms raised, trying to surrender.

After the shooting, an angry crowd of about 200 people gathered, taunting the deputies.

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