As black community leaders expressed growing anger over the death of a 13-year-old boy shot Sunday by a Los Angeles police officer, Police Chief William J. Bratton sought Monday to explain why the department hasn’t changed its policy on firing at moving vehicles, a year after he said it should be revised.
“It takes a long time,” Bratton said of his efforts to revamp the shooting policy, noting that the Los Angeles Police Department is considering policies from four agencies that would “potentially prohibit” officers from shooting at a moving vehicle. “There is a lot of back and forth discussing it. We are intending to make changes.”
Officer Steven Garcia, a 9-year veteran, fired 10 shots early Sunday at 13-year-old Devin Brown, who was driving a stolen 1990 Toyota Camry. Garcia, standing outside his police car, opened fire when Devin allegedly backed the Toyota toward the patrol unit.
In an interview, Bratton expressed concerns about Garcia’s tactics, but said he would leave it to investigators to get to the bottom of the incident.
Bratton said he believes that five of 10 shots fired by Garcia struck his police car and created the potential for assisting officers “to be caught in the cross-fire.”
Meanwhile, South Los Angeles residents and leaders of the African American community expressed outrage over the shooting, which followed a brief pursuit.
“The residents are very disturbed over this tragic and needless shooting,” said John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League. “We have a pattern here where some police officers don’t value the lives of young African American males. There’s a frustration here that’s building up and makes it difficult to build a partnership with police.”
Dozens of area residents gathered in protest Monday around the corner of West 83rd Street and South Western Avenue where Devin was shot. At a makeshift memorial site, placards and notes were left criticizing officers for heavy-handed police work. “LAPD, thank you for giving us another reason for disliking your service,” read one.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) urged the community to “demand justice and become even more creative in ways to shame the establishment for tolerating this kind of abuse in our city.”
Nearby resident Paula Hodge, 48, said. “I’m standing here for this baby because this didn’t need to happen. They put these guys [police] out here who they know don’t like us.” Even if Devin “was doing wrong, that didn’t give them the right to kill him in that way,” she said.
Ernest Ward, 46, who knew the victim and his family, said he was shocked by the shooting. He said Devin, whose father died about six months ago, was a good kid who had never gotten into trouble before. “He was a sweet kid,” Ward said. “That’s what I don’t understand.”
Bratton met with Mack and other community leaders Monday afternoon to assure them that the department would fully investigate the incident.
The shooting comes as many black activists and residents are still upset over two other recent news events: Last week’s decision by Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley not to prosecute the LAPD officer who used a flashlight last year to beat a black car thief during an arrest; and last month’s $1.6-million jury award to a former Inglewood officer who was captured on videotape slamming a black teenager onto the trunk of a patrol car.
Waters said both cases were “reminiscent of the Rodney King beating” almost 14 years ago and the verdict by an all-white jury that followed in April 1992, acquitting the four police officers of any wrongdoing.
Geraldine Washington, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP, said that “the community is outraged. But I think this is going to bring the total community together. They’re supposed to protect and serve, and they got it wrong.”
Sunday’s shooting appears to be the first for Garcia, a Newton Division officer, according to police records obtained by The Times. The officer, however, has had several misconduct complaints against him alleging that he has been discourteous and made false or misleading statements to investigators.
In one case, a disciplinary panel recommended that Garcia be suspended for 44 days in connection with a case in which he was accused of threatening a juvenile and then threatened an ex-girlfriend so she wouldn’t cooperate with LAPD investigators. Although the panel concluded that he did not threaten the juvenile, it found that he did threaten the former girlfriend and disobeyed department orders by talking to her about the case.
Garcia was placed on desk duty after Sunday’s shooting.
According to police, Garcia and his partner were on routine patrol near Gage and Grand avenues when they saw the driver of the maroon Toyota Camry run a red light. The officers followed the car onto the Harbor Freeway and then tried to pull the driver over.
A three-minute chase ended when the driver lost control of the Toyota and drove onto the sidewalk. The officers then parked their patrol car behind the Toyota.
A 14-year-old passenger fled, but was later apprehended. When Devin, who was driving, allegedly backed into the officers’ car, Garcia opened fire.
The last high-profile incident in which an LAPD officer shot and killed a motorist occurred nearly a year ago in Santa Monica, where police killed a man who backed his car toward officers at the end of a televised 90-minute pursuit.
At the time, Bratton announced that he wanted to place new, more stringent restrictions on officers firing at moving vehicles.
On Monday, the chief said drafting the new shooting policy is part of a larger, more comprehensive change on the apprehension of fleeing suspects.
Bratton said he has tightened the rules governing when officers can initiate a pursuit. He said officers are being trained to use spike strips that puncture tires and immobilize fleeing vehicles, and that officers are being taught to use their vehicles to contact the rear of a fleeing vehicle to make it spin to a halt.
A new LAPD unit has been created to investigate shootings, he said. The final piece of the puzzle -- a new policy governing officers’ use of deadly force when suspects are in moving vehicles -- will come before the Police Commission in 30 to 45 days.
Bratton said the department is considering policies from four agencies -- the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, San Francisco Police Department, Boston Police Department and Miami Police Department -- that would “potentially prohibit shooting from a moving vehicle or at a moving vehicle unless the officer is threatened by deadly force other than the moving vehicle.”
LAPD officers are now entitled to use deadly force to protect themselves or others from the immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury.
They also are permitted to shoot at fleeing felons, but only in cases in which the target is suspected of having seriously hurt or killed someone -- or having attempted to -- and there is a “substantial risk” that the suspect will do so again if not apprehended.
The department’s manual states that “firing at or from moving vehicles is generally prohibited. Even though officers are discouraged from shooting at moving vehicles, such shootings are, more often than not, found to be justified uses of force.
Times staff writers Matt Lait and Scott Glover contributed to this report.