Eight of the nine sheriff’s deputies who apologized in May for their roles in a wild shootout that sent bullets flying around a Compton neighborhood are appealing the discipline imposed by Sheriff Lee Baca.
The deputies stood before television cameras and apologized for the May 9 shooting, in which about 120 shots were fired. Both the unarmed suspect and a deputy were struck, and 11 bullets hit nearby homes.
The apologies appeared to ease tensions with neighbors. But the deputies’ decision to appeal Baca’s discipline has some in the community questioning whether the apologies were sincere.
“For them to make a public apology and then appeal the discipline to me means they really didn’t mean what they said,” said the Rev. Kerry Allison, pastor of Hope Community Church and one of the leading critics of the shooting. “Even when they apologize, we can’t trust that their apology had meaning.”
In all, 13 people were disciplined in connection with the incident, though not all took part in the shooting, and 11 have appealed. According to a report by the civilian Office of Independent Review, which monitors the Sheriff’s Department, Baca proposed suspensions without pay ranging from three days to 15 days for 10 deputies and a sergeant. Two deputies were reprimanded.
An attorney representing nine of the deputies who have appealed called the appeals a routine part of the process.
Gregory Emerson said the deputies remain contrite and willing to accept punishment but believe Baca’s sanctions were too harsh.
“The way it’s worked traditionally is they come up with artificially high numbers [of days] and they negotiate it. In no way does that diminish or detract from their apology. They stand behind it,” Emerson said.
Undersheriff Larry Waldie said that deputies routinely appeal discipline and that he did not fault the Compton deputies for doing so. Such appeals, called grievances, are first heard by a captain and then a chief. If deputies are still dissatisfied, they can take the matter to a hearing before a neutral arbiter.
“They did feel they had endangered the community, without a doubt. The contriteness is real,” Waldie said. “The point of grieving any discipline is it’s their right. It’s just their desire to look at the discipline and see if it was meted out appropriately.”
The shootout came at the conclusion of the deputies’ pursuit of a sport utility vehicle driven by Winston Eugene Hayes in a Compton neighborhood. Deputies tried to get Hayes to stop so they could question him about a reported shooting.
After circling the neighborhood several times, Hayes stopped on Butler Avenue, but then put the vehicle into reverse. When deputies approached, he drove away, then stopped again. Finally, he reportedly drove toward a patrol car as deputies opened fire.
Ten deputies surrounded the vehicle and began shooting. Of the 120 shots, 66 hit the SUV Hayes was driving, 11 hit patrol cars and 11 hit five homes.
One bullet hit a deputy, Edward Clark, but was deflected by his bulletproof vest. Hayes suffered two gunshot wounds, but they were not life-threatening. He was charged with evading law enforcement officers and driving under the influence of drugs.
The Office of Independent Review’s report last month criticized the deputies and their supervisors for failing to develop a plan to deal with the situation and for opening fire without assessing the danger to themselves and to nearby residents.
A few days after the shooting, Emerson appeared at a news conference with the nine deputies to apologize to Compton residents. He said the deputies wished they could have avoided shooting homes and endangering residents.
One of the nine deputies who apologized at the news conference has decided not to appeal, Emerson said. Two other disciplined deputies, not represented by Emerson, are also appealing.
Baca issued suspension notices to nine of the 10 deputies who fired weapons in the standoff, a sergeant who supervised the incident and a deputy who waved his gun at a man capturing the incident on video camera.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is still reviewing the shooting, said spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons.
Terry Moore, who ran to her home for cover when the shooting erupted, said she was not moved by the apologies and was incensed by the appeals.
“They said they’re sorry, and now they try to appeal. That makes them look so bad,” she said. “I don’t think the discipline was strong enough. Why would you come in a neighborhood and just shoot it up like that?”