Tests on Man Killed by Police Fuel Controversy : Violence: A coroner’s report may be used to dispute official account of South-Central man’s death. Report finds him free of gunshot residue.


Tests conducted by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office found no gunshot residue on the hands of a South-Central Los Angeles man who was killed by two Los Angeles police officers last month in an incident that has created controversy in the community.

Although the report does not settle a key dispute in the case--whether the dead man fired a gun at police--it is likely to be used by friends and relatives of Darrell Harts, who were outraged by his fatal shooting April 5. According to the police account, two officers were on patrol near the scene, at 93rd and Main streets, and approached Harts after hearing gunshots. They reportedly engaged in a gun battle with Harts after he fired his pistol at them.

The police account has been challenged by Harts’ supporters, who say it is inconceivable that he would have shot at police. Relatives noted that he had friendly relations with many police officers and was on the waiting list to be hired by the Compton Police Department.


The Los Angeles Police Department and the district attorney’s office are conducting investigations of the shooting.

Steven J. Dowell, a criminalist with the coroner’s office, said in a report that no conclusions could be drawn about whether Harts had fired a gun because the gunshot residue tests were not performed until after he died, three days after the incident.

Dowell said the fact that no particles of gunshot residue were found on Harts’ hands could be attributed to one of three factors: he did not fire a gun; he fired a gun but no particles were left on his hands; or he fired a gun but residue was removed by washing or something else that occurred while Harts was at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Goul, who is heading that office’s investigation of the incident, said “it would have been very helpful to the investigation” if a gunshot residue test had been conducted at the scene.

LAPD Detective Ronald Karlson said one was not done then because Harts had been severely wounded and there was an urgent need to get him to the hospital. “Once it’s a situation where life is hanging in the balance,” he said, the test becomes a secondary consideration.

An attorney representing Harts’ family said the test results buttress the contentions of Harts’ friends and relatives. “Even though the coroner’s office says the test is inconclusive, we think it confirms what we’ve been saying all along--that Darrell was not shooting a gun at anyone that evening,” lawyer Cameron Stewart said.


Pauletta Oliver, a spokeswoman for the Darrell Harts Justice Committee, said the tests would further galvanize community residents who have been staging vigils at the Southeast Division police station every Thursday night decrying the shooting.

Neighborhood activists say Harts, 30, was killed to keep him from testifying in a police brutality trial--scheduled for August--that he saw a Los Angeles police officer strike a man in the face, breaking his jaw and shattering 10 teeth. Assistant City Atty. Philip Sugar, who represents the five officers charged in that case, said the allegations are outrageous.

The LAPD’s Karlson said the police investigation of the Harts shooting should be completed by June 5, the allotted 60 days after the incident. The report by the department’s Officer Involved Shooting Unit goes to the LAPD’s Use of Force Review Board and then to Chief Willie L. Williams and the Police Commission.

Goul said the district attorney’s office has interviewed more than a dozen people, is reviewing audiotapes of police radio transmissions from that evening and will be reviewing forensic tests and other evidence before determining whether to file charges against the two officers involved in the shooting.