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Slain Boy’s Family Files Claim

Times Staff Writers

An attorney representing the family of 13-year-old Devin Brown, who was fatally shot by police at the end of a car chase, filed a wrongful-death claim against the city, alleging that inadequate police policies led to the death.

Brian Dunn, an attorney in the law firm run by O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran, framed the legal action as a cry for justice for the family and a remedy for a “culture of violence” within the Los Angeles Police Department.

Dunn blamed Brown’s death on “the outdated policies of the LAPD and the negligent tactics of the officers in question.”

“Any decision to fire even one bullet into a moving vehicle is not proper procedure,” he said. “It’s a bad tactic.”

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The Los Angeles Police Commission last week changed the department’s shooting policy to prevent officers from firing at moving cars unless they considered their lives or those of bystanders in danger. Officers will be trained to get out of the way of a vehicle that is moving toward them and cannot in most circumstances consider a vehicle itself to be a threat.

Officials had been contemplating the change since a similar shooting a year ago but fast-tracked the action after Devin’s death, on Feb. 6. Police Chief William J. Bratton said the new rules make it more difficult for police officers to fire on moving vehicles but acknowledged that they would not eliminate the practice.

Dunn said Tuesday that the LAPD took too long to change the policy and that there was no evidence that the officer had fired his gun because he feared for his life.

Dunn also questioned the number of shots fired at Devin.

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“We want to know why he fired the first round, why he fired the second round, why he fired the third round, the fourth round, the fifth round, the sixth round, the seventh round, the eighth round, the ninth round, the tenth round,” he said. “We want to know what this little boy did to give this police officer a reason to kill him.”

Dunn also suggested that his law firm would investigate the shooting to determine whether Officer Steve Garcia actually had a justification to shoot.

What evidence would reveal whether Garcia had a reason to fear for his life? “Trajectory,” Dunn said. “It boils down to: Where was the officer standing when he fired his weapon? And why did he fire so many times?”

The family’s legal claim creates another parallel investigation into the shooting, which is being scrutinized by the Police Department, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and the FBI.

According to police, Garcia saw a maroon Toyota Camry run a red light about 4 a.m. and driving erratically. After a 3-minute chase, the driver of the car lost control and drove onto the sidewalk at the intersection of South Western Avenue and West 83rd Street. The officers parked behind the car and a 14-year-old passenger fled.

Police said that Devin backed the car into the patrol car and that Garcia fired 10 times. Police said Devin was driving the Camry. The car was stolen, though officers did not know that then.

In the weeks after the shooting, some community activists and supporters of Devin’s family criticized the department for its practice of shooting into moving vehicles, contending that it was dangerous and ineffective.

Bratton has described the shooting as tragic and has openly questioned some of Garcia’s tactics, including firing into his own police cruiser five times and possibly endangering his partner, Officer Dana Grant. Bratton also has said that officers are trained to reevaluate the situation after each round fired. In this case, however, it appears that Garcia fired continuously. Garcia and Grant have been assigned to desk duty pending further investigation.

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Police spokesman Lt. Paul Vernon said Tuesday that the department would not discuss matters in litigation and that the facts involving the shooting, including the location of the officers, were still under investigation.

Bratton’s account of the shooting earlier this month “was based on evidence that was available at that point and did not include officers’ statements or anything on the position of the officers,” Vernon said. “That wasn’t addressed and won’t be addressed until the investigation is completed.”

Residents who live near the site of the shooting said they saw several bullet casings in the intersection, suggesting that was the spot where Garcia had fired his gun. The casings were lying on the passenger side of the Toyota Camry, witnesses said. A police cruiser was parked on the driver’s side of the Camry, which was riddled with bullet holes, witnesses said. The police cruiser was hit by at least one bullet, as was another parked car several feet away. Witnesses said that a man was sleeping in the parked car at the time of the shooting. That man escaped injury, witnesses said, and was questioned by police.

Dunn declined to discuss how much money the family would seek in damages, but said they were willing to discuss an out-of-court settlement with the city. The city has 45 days to respond to the damage claim, said Dunn, after which a lawsuit could proceed.

Donna Jackson, Devin’s aunt, read a prepared statement Tuesday that described the “profound impact” her nephew’s death has had on their family.

“We pray that no family ever has to experience the tragic loss that we feel now,” she said.

The family’s pastor, Charlie Rushing of Slater Street Missionary Baptist Church tried to minimize the racial element of the shooting -- Devin was African American.

“We’re not here because Devin was black -- because a black child was killed,” Rushing said. “We’re here because Devin was a child, who happened to be black.”

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Devin’s mother, Evelyn Davis, sat tearfully during the announcement, declined to address reporters and quickly left the room when the conference ended.


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