New details emerged Thursday in the police shooting death of a tow truck driver in Southwest Los Angeles that raise questions about the police version of the incident as well as the troubled backgrounds of the victim and two motorcycle officers involved in the killing.
The Wednesday evening shooting on Florence Avenue in the Hyde Park area, less than two miles from a flash point of the riots, provoked a tense standoff between police and about 200 onlookers who taunted the officers with racial slurs.
The tow truck driver, John Daniels Jr., 36, was black. The two motorcycle officers involved in the shooting are white--Douglas Iversen, 42, and Patrick Bradshaw, 28. Among the revelations in the case Thursday:
* Witnesses contradicted police accounts of the incident. Police officials said Iversen shot Daniels because he feared that the tow truck driver, who was trying to drive off, would run over pedestrians, but witnesses said there was no such danger.
* The two officers have histories of misconduct. They have been suspended a total of four times during the past six years. The discipline brought against Iversen, who fired the fatal shot, primarily involved the theft and misuse of Police Department equipment. Bradshaw was accused of roughing up undercover sheriff’s deputies.
* In the mid-1980s, Daniels’ father was fatally shot by Los Angeles police during what authorities have described as a gun battle. Family members said Wednesday’s shooting of the younger Daniels was part of a deadly campaign of harassment against them. Court records show that Daniels has a long list of felony charges, and a police detective called him a “career criminal.”
The shooting has become an important first test for newly inaugurated Police Chief WillieL. Williams, whose officers contacted community leaders Wednesday and Thursday to ensure that the shooting would not provoke unrest.
“The community understood we were going to take a fair, equitable look at the shooting and the results were going to be made public (and) that we are not trying to hide anything,” Williams said at a news conference Thursday.
Asked whether it is accepted police practice for an officer to try to stop a vehicle by shooting at it, Williams said: “Normally, no. . . . But we are going to have to listen to the officers’ explanations and talk to the witnesses.”
According to a short police statement, Wednesday’s encounter began at 6:20 p.m., when Iversen and Bradshaw confronted Daniels at a Chevron service station at the intersection of Florence Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard. The officers recognized the truck from previous contacts “as being in violation of current vehicle registration,” the statement said.
Police said Daniels “immediately became agitated” when questioned about the registration. When asked for his driver’s license, Daniels entered the truck and started the engine. One officer tried to pull him out of the truck, the statement said, but Daniels pushed him away and headed toward a driveway that exits onto Florence.
“Officer Iversen, observing pedestrians directly in front of the truck’s path, and fearing for their safety, fired one round from his 9-millimeter pistol at Daniels,” according to police.
Witnesses dispute that Daniels was endangering pedestrians as he drove toward the driveway at about 5 m.p.h. Even some detectives at Parker Center police headquarters privately questioned the officers’ tactics.
“Even if you kill (the suspect), the truck is going to keep going and still run everybody over,” one sergeant said. “How does that solve anything?”
A 22-year-old woman named Monika, who declined to give her last name, was in the gas station parking lot, trying to get her stalled car started. She said she heard Daniels arguing with the officers, asking why they were bothering him. At one point, Daniels said: “Is there something wrong with the truck? I got the registration.”
Finally, the woman said, Daniels threw up his hands in frustration and climbed behind the wheel of his truck, saying: “I’m outta here.”
Iversen tried to pull Daniels out, the witness said, but Daniels yelled back: “What are you going to do, shoot me?”
As the truck pulled toward the driveway, Alice White, whose car was stopped near an entrance to the station, said she saw Daniels with one hand on the wheel, using the other to gesture for her to move her car out of the way
Iversen ran alongside the truck, she said. Another witness heard the officer yell “Stop!” almost at the instant the shot rang out.
White said she saw the truck roll forward a few yards onto Florence Avenue where it struck a car and stopped. The door opened and a bleeding Daniels fell out.
“I know (the driver) was wrong for trying to get away from them (officers),” said White, 24. “But two wrongs don’t make a right. For (the police) to have shot that man when he didn’t have a gun was wrong.”
According to police sources and a witness at the scene, Bradshaw turned to Iversen after the shooting and said: “What did you do that for?”
As the sky darkened, a crowd was drawn to the intersection. A collective anger began to simmer, and Steve Chon, owner of the gas station, feared that it might again be looted and ransacked, as it had been during the riots.
“I was scared that it would happen again,” he said. “It could happen again just like Normandie and Florence.”
Previously, the most violent encounter between the Daniels family and Los Angeles police came on Dec. 7, 1985, when John Daniels Sr. was shot and killed by officers. Both the district attorney’s office and police Internal Affairs investigators said the officers had acted properly because Daniels Sr. had engaged the officers in a gun battle.
But members of the Daniels family said Thursday that Daniels Sr. had called the police to his home on 42nd Street, where he was a Neighborhood Watch block captain, to report a burglary across the street. The Daniels family filed a lawsuit accusing police of misconduct but did not pursue the case.
Daniels Jr. had an extensive history of arrests for crimes ranging from burglary and assault to resisting arrest. Police recorded at least 17 aliases. He had been arrested for stealing washing machines, television sets, go-carts, and once pleaded guilty to grand theft of a dog.
“I don’t know the full circumstances under which he was shot,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Bornman. “But if people are painting him as a poor innocent tow truck driver, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I wouldn’t put it past him to simply drive away. . . . I always figured he would go down a hard way.”
Daniels’ first arrest came at 13 when he committed battery on a schoolteacher, according to his court records. During his later years, he was sometimes arrested as often as once a month.
Yet, Daniels was rarely convicted, a fact authorities attribute to his ability to manipulate the system and Daniels attributed to police harassment of an innocent man.
At one point Daniels contacted attorney Steven Lerman about filing a civil suit against the department for brutality. Lerman, who is Rodney G. King’s lawyer, represented the family but did not file suit.
On Thursday, an associate of Lerman’s said the Daniels family had retained Lerman for possible litigation in Wednesday’s shooting.
“It’s a whole history of harassment,” said Theresa Daniels, John Daniels Jr.'s mother.
Daniels owned a security dog company in the 1980s. Officials received frequent complaints from the owners of other security dog companies that he had tried to force them out of business, going so far as to threaten their lives, said Sheriff’s Sgt. Bornman.
In the late 1980s, Daniels was convicted of stealing a competitor’s truck full of German shepherds, pouring gasoline into the cab and burning the vehicle, killing two dogs and letting loose nearly two dozen attack-trained canines.
Bornman, who was assigned to the case, described Daniels as a “clearly intelligent” career criminal who “enjoyed playing cat and mouse” with police.
“He even called me one time, saying: ‘This is John Daniels. I hear you’re looking for me. Well, you’re not going to find me.’ Then he hung up.”
Iversen, a 15-year veteran, has been suspended without pay three times during his career for a series of policy violations.
According to Sgt. Bill Frio, an LAPD spokesman, Iversen was suspended for 60 days in 1986 after police found him in possession of a hand-held department walkie-talkie in Bakersfield. Six months earlier, Iversen had reported the police Rover missing or stolen.
That same year, Iversen received an additional 30-day suspension for accessing the police crime computer for personal reasons while serving the suspension on the theft violation. In 1989, Iversen was suspended for 10 days for not properly registering property given to him. Iversen had been admonished in 1979 for misuse of the city police computer.
Iversen filed a lawsuit to overturn some of the suspensions. But Deputy City Atty. Molly Roff-Sheridan, in a court document filed in January, said the discipline for Iversen was “fair and reasonable.”
“Douglas Iversen is a police officer who has developed a significant pattern of misconduct in his career with the Los Angeles Police Department of cavalierly appropriating city equipment for his own personal use,” she wrote in the court papers.
Patrick Thistle, an attorney who represented Iversen, strongly disagreed with that portrait.
“Actually,” Thistle said, “the guy is a real easy-going, calm kind of a guy. I never saw him riled or upset to the point that he would ever cross the line.”
This year, a Superior Court judge ruled against Iversen in his lawsuit attempting to overturn the suspensions.
Bradshaw has been an LAPD officer for six years and has one suspension. In 1987, he and a partner, Antonio B. Sanchez, stopped two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies after getting reports that police impersonators had been robbing illegal immigrants.
Bradshaw and Sanchez pointed their guns and, without explanation, ordered the deputies out of their unmarked car with their hands in the air. Then, for 20 minutes, Bradshaw and Sanchez forced the deputies to lie face-down in an intersection until sergeants from the LAPD and Sheriff’s Department cleared up the situation.
Bradshaw, who just the year before had graduated first in his Police Academy class, was suspended for five days without pay. Sanchez, then a four-year LAPD veteran, was suspended for 10 days without pay.
A tow truck driver was slain Wednesday night in a controversial shooting. Here is a look at what happened, according to witnesses and officials: 1. John Daniels Jr. approaches Officer Douglas Iversen, who is examining Daniel’s tow-truck at gas pump. The two exchange words over the truck’s registration. Daniels jumps in. As Iversen tries to pull him out, Daniels breaks away and drives off toward Florence Avenue with the driver side door open. 2. According to witnesses, the truck rolls slowly to the end of the driveway, and Daniels motions for a car on Florence to move on. His gun drawn, Iversen runs up alongside the tow truck and fires one shot, hitting Daniels, witnesses said. 3. The truck rolls out into traffic, and travels the wrong way for a short distance until it hits a car. The truck stops and Daniels falls out, mortally wounded. A. Steve Chon, owner of Steve Chon’s Chevron Station, is inside. B. Witness identified as Monika, stands near her stalled car. C. Alice White is in front seat of passing car, near driveway.