County Clears 2 Officers in Shooting Death : Probe: Despite flaws in police account, district attorney’s office says killing of Darrell Harts did not meet the standards for filing criminal charges.


County prosecutors announced Monday that they had decided not to file criminal charges against two Los Angeles police officers who shot and killed an off-duty security guard in April in an incident that has created controversy in Southeast Los Angeles.

The officers said they shot Darrell Harts, 30, after he fired at them near 93rd and Main streets shortly before 8 p.m. on April 5. The officers, who were in the neighborhood in an unmarked car on a drug stakeout, said they approached Harts after hearing gunshots.

They officers said they shouted out that they were policemen, but that Harts fired a pistol first, setting off a gun battle.


For months, however, Harts’ family and friends have challenged the police account, saying it is inconceivable that he would have shot at police because he was friendly with many officers and was trying to become a police officer himself. Harts’ supporters formed a committee and held numerous vigils at the Southeast Division police station.

Despite finding some inconsistencies in the stories of Officers Bruce Nelson and Brett Richards, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said the case did not meet the standards for filing criminal charges.

“Because this claim of self-defense cannot be effectively or completely refuted, we conclude that it cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt . . . that the shooting of Darrell Harts was criminal under the circumstances,” wrote Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard M. Goul, who headed the office’s investigation into the shooting.

“In light of our review of the evidence . . . and our legal analysis, we will take no further action in this matter and consider the case closed,” Goul wrote to the Board of Police Commissioners.

But Goul’s report said aspects of the incident remained a mystery, and that “The details of the circumstances of his (Harts’) death may never be known.”


Moreover, the report raises questions about the conduct of the two officers, saying that Richards and Nelson changed the account they initially gave police investigators--after the investigators visited the scene and found that Harts had not fired as many shots as the officers said.


The report also noted that some neighbors said they had not heard the officers identify themselves to Harts.

“The discrepancies in the number of shots and issuance of police warnings could result from faulty recollection or willful deceit,” Goul wrote. “But the self-defense doctrine does not require that the officers were fired upon repeatedly, nor does it require that they issue any warning before shooting.

“More importantly, two civilian witnesses said that Darrell Harts fired his gun prior to being fired upon. Forensic tests determined that three shots were fired from Mr. Harts’ gun.”

The report concluded that the early evening confrontation was set off when Harts shot his neighbor’s pit bull, drawing the officers’ attention. The dog’s owners told police they saw Harts shoot the dog, and other neighbors said they had heard Harts issue threats about the pit bull, which had attacked his dog three months earlier.

But family and friends described Harts, who was returning from his job as a guard, as a model citizen.

In May, the county coroner’s office found no gunshot residue on Harts’ hands when they examined him, which increased the family’s suspicions.


Monday’s report, however, gave a possible explanation for the earlier test result. It states that personnel at Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital, where Harts was treated after the shooting, found gloves, along with other possessions, on his gurney.

Three months later, LAPD criminalist Leonard Henkhaus concluded that “particles unique to gunshot residue were detected on both the right and left gloves as well as the right sleeve of Mr. Harts’ jacket,” the report added.

Neither paramedics nor officers at the scene could remember if Harts was wearing the gloves, according to Goul’s report.

“We’re very disappointed” in the district attorney’s decision, said Cameron Stewart, an attorney who represents the Harts family. “I think that there are a lot of questions that have not been answered. I have talked to Darrell’s family and they told me he never wore gloves.”


The family filed a claim for damages with the city, which was denied in November, Stewart said.

Police spokesman Lt. John Dunkin said he had not seen the report, which was sent to Chief Willie L. Williams and the officers, and thus was unable to comment on it.


In September, the FBI disclosed that it had opened a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting of Harts, who was black. The officers are white.

An FBI spokesman said Monday that the investigation is ongoing.