As the U.S. Justice Department probes the racially charged police shootings of Tyisha Miller and Margaret Mitchell, FBI agents are also investigating the death of a young African American man who was shot by two Claremont police officers during a routine traffic stop earlier this year.
Irvin Landrum Jr., 18, died Jan. 17, six days after he was shot three times in the neck, chest and ankle on a sidewalk in the quiet eastern Los Angeles County suburb. One of the officers involved told investigators the shooting was in self defense after Landrum pulled a .45-caliber pistol from his waistband and fired first.
But a subsequent investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department showed that the gun Landrum allegedly used was never fired and bore no fingerprints.
On Friday, the head of the FBI's laboratory in Washington confirmed that if a gun has been used and later handled properly as evidence, fingerprints should be found.
"I don't know any way to handle metal or varnished wood without leaving prints," said Donald Kerr, the FBI expert.
Whether Landrum pulled a gun from his waistband and aimed it at the officers has become a central point in the controversy. Claremont police officials do not dispute the finding that Landrum did not fire the gun.
Since release of the sheriff's report in April, there have been rallies, meetings and calls for further investigation from the family and other members of the black community in the Pomona Valley, where minorities have complained about being harassed while driving through the predominantly white, upscale city of Claremont.
As a result, the FBI is investigating possible civil rights violations stemming from the shooting, said Michael Gennaco, an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. The two officers, Hany Hanna and Kent Jacks, both 10-year veterans, took paid leaves of absence after the incident but are back on duty. According to the sheriff's report, only Hanna talked to investigators.
Claremont Police Chief Robert Moody vigorously defends his officers' conduct, saying they had little choice but to fire at Landrum. He said that in recent months there has been a public rush to judgment in officer-involved shootings.
"In my opinion, it came to a head with Tyisha Miller," Moody said in a recent interview with The Times. "Any time there seems to be a conflict between minorities and a police officer, the inference is the police officer did something wrong."
He said that in a chaotic situation, it's not unusual for police to have difficulty remembering the exact chain of events--in this case, whether they heard a gunshot before opening fire.
"In that type of traumatic situation, it is hard to put things in a proper order," he said.
Meanwhile, Landrum's family members say it doesn't make sense that the normally calm young man would suddenly try to kill two police officers.
His family and his work supervisor at a nearby Ikea distribution center said Landrum had no gang ties, but acknowledged that he was on probation for carrying concealed brass knuckles last year.
"My son was not a thug," said his mother, Tracy Lee. "He was a hard-working kid looking forward to going back to school. . . . I'm in agony over this."
The family's attorney, Anthony Willoughby, said there are numerous discrepancies between Hanna's account of the incident and the sheriff's report, which draws no conclusion as to whether the shooting was justified.
Landrum "sure couldn't wipe the gun off after he was shot," Willoughby said.
The gun--a Smith and Wesson six-shot, .45-caliber pistol--was last registered to a man who died in 1989, the sheriff's report says. His widow told investigators he frequently bought and sold guns but that she did not know about this specific weapon, the report adds.
The report quotes Landrum's ex-girlfriend, Theresa Ramirez, as saying that she saw a big revolver in Landrum's car a week before the shooting. But in interviews with The Times this week, she insisted she was talking about a BB gun and cannot remember when she saw it in Landrum's car.
The report also says that gunpowder residue was lifted from Landrum's hands but left open the question of how it got there.
The Sheriff's Department routinely conducts investigations of police-involved shootings for smaller agencies such as the Claremont Police Department and then hands over its results to the district attorney's office for review.
According to the report, this is what happened between Landrum and police:
Landrum was driving home on Baseline Road from his current girlfriend's house when he was stopped by Hanna about 1 a.m. on Jan. 11 for speeding.
Landrum appeared nervous when Hanna approached the window; Landrum's hands were on his knees, and he volunteered to Hanna that he did not have his driver's license.
Hanna thought he was just going to give Landrum a warning until he asked the young man if he was on probation. When Landrum said yes, mentioning the concealed weapons charge, Hanna asked Landrum to step out of the car.
After Jacks arrived as backup, Hanna went to search Landrum and that is when the shooting occurred, the report says.
As they went to pat him down, Landrum allegedly took two steps back and reached for his waistband. According to Hanna, the suspect said: "No. No. I'm gonna kill you, I'm gonna kill you."
That's when Hanna said he saw a muzzle flash and heard a gunshot. He drew his revolver and shot Landrum twice, the report says. Jacks also fired, but Hanna could not say how many times. It is unclear which officer fired first.
The shooting did not garner the media attention that the deaths of Miller and Mitchell generated. Miller, 19, was shot to death by Riverside police in December as she sat in her car, clutching a gun. On Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it was launching a civil investigation into the use of force and treatment of minorities by Riverside police.
Mitchell, a homeless woman, was shot in May by Los Angeles police after they said she tried to stab one of them with a screwdriver.