Shooting Probes Are Criticized
The new president of the Los Angeles Police Commission called Tuesday for the LAPD to speed up its investigations of police shootings, including the high-profile killing in February of 13-year-old Devin Brown.
“These investigations go on forever.... This has to be done in a more timely fashion,” said commission President John Mack, retired president of the Los Angeles Urban League, where he was a staunch advocate of greater accountability for the LAPD. “Just because I’m in a new position doesn’t mean I forgot my past.”
Mack spoke at the commission’s first meeting since Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s four new appointees joined the five-member citizens oversight panel. He pledged to cut down the time it takes to resolve police shootings while seeking to protect the rights of officers.
His comments came after about 200 community activists packed the commission’s hearing room to decry the pace of the investigation into the Feb. 6 killing of Devin. They demanded the firing of Officer Steve Garcia, who shot the teenager after he backed a stolen car toward a police cruiser. Garcia and his partner had begun pursuing Devin after he ran a red light.
“Officer Steve Garcia shot on the side of the vehicle, not from behind.... He was not in harm’s way,” said Pastor Lewis Logan of the group Community Call to Action and Accountability. “If this police commission doesn’t strongly recommend that this officer’s service be terminated ... this room will be filled” with protesters.
Logan was referring to an LAPD reconstruction of the shooting made public in July that showed Garcia was no longer in the path of the vehicle when he fired 10 times, hitting Devin seven times. A coroner’s investigator came to the same conclusion that Garcia was to the right side of the vehicle when he opened fire.
The LAPD’s findings were sent Aug. 5 to the district attorney’s office for a decision on whether to prosecute Garcia. Once that decision is made, the LAPD can determine what internal disciplinary measures to seek against Garcia. Prosecutors are expected to make a decision by November.
Nation of Islam Minister Tony Muhammad said the community has already waited too long for action. He noted how Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca took only 30 days to conclude that deputies who fired about 120 rounds at a suspect in a Compton neighborhood had violated tactical and pursuit policies. Ten deputies and a sergeant were suspended, and two deputies were reprimanded.
“We will shut this city down” if Devin’s shooting is not adequately investigated, Muhammad told the commission.
Others said Devin’s death was another in a series of events over the decades that have led to distrust of the LAPD. The commission will determine whether the shooting was within department policy. But whether Garcia is disciplined will be decided by the LAPD. If it decides to fire him, it would need approval from a three-member panel known as the Board of Rights and Chief William J. Bratton.
Activists disrupted the early part of the meeting, shouting “No justice, no peace,” because they could not squeeze into the commission’s regular hearing room.
Mack then moved the session to the building’s larger auditorium, where Villaraigosa sat in the audience.
“I was concerned about the tenor of the anger,” the mayor said later outside, calling it a “sobering experience.” He said he had been advised to avoid the auditorium because of the crowd, but he chose to come and listen. “My job is to calm the waters,” he said.
Villaraigosa said he isn’t about to second-guess the LAPD on the pace of the Brown investigation, noting it is an “in-depth and exhaustive” probe that a federal monitor, mandated by a consent decree upon the department, will examine carefully.
“Our responsibility is to keep this city safe in every neighborhood,” he said. “But it is also our responsibility to build trust.”
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