12 Deputies Suspended in Shooting
Twelve Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies involved in a wild shooting in a Compton neighborhood last month were suspended Thursday by Sheriff Lee Baca after he concluded that the officers had violated tactical and pursuit policies.
The internal investigation depicted a pursuit of a suspect that began badly and quickly got worse.
Deputies lacked proper training, some lacked the right equipment, and some of their equipment failed to work, the investigation showed. In the end, the deputies formed a rough circle around the suspect, Winston Hayes, and began firing -- shooting about 120 rounds. Hayes, who was hit four times, was injured, as was one deputy.
“What you end up having is mass confusion about how we’re going to respond here,” said Michael Gennaco, head of the Sheriff’s Department’s Office of Independent Review.
Baca announced the suspensions, which range from two to 15 days, not far from the street where the deputies had fired the rounds at a car-chase suspect on May 9. Bullets flew into homes and forced residents to dive for cover.
Eleven deputies were suspended for two to seven days, mostly for tactical mistakes, including endangering deputies and others by cross-firing, as well as for failing to take cover and to keep a safe distance from the suspect. Another deputy was suspended for 15 days because he got involved in the pursuit against orders.
One deputy received only a reprimand because he had tried to issue commands and create a sense of control before the shooting, Baca said.
Gennaco said the agency found that several factors, arguably beyond the deputies’ control, probably played a role in the shooting:
* Because of budget cuts, only five of the 10 deputies who actually fired their weapons had received training that emphasized the tactics that came into play that night.
* None of the deputies had spike strips, which deflate tires, in their cruisers.
* A spike strip that had been brought from the station armory to stop the suspect’s SUV failed to deploy. Two other strips at the station were also defective.
* Sheriff’s personnel in the air and on the ground failed to adequately communicate and when they had a chance to, did not seek cover or formulate a plan.
The swift discipline surprised some Compton community leaders, who have criticized the shooting.
Compton Mayor Eric Perrodin said that the discipline was fair, and hoped that promised training would prevent future incidents.
“I have faith the Sheriff’s Department took everything into consideration. Based on what I know, I think the discipline was appropriate,” Perrodin said.
Activist Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope agreed, adding that Baca delivered on several promises he made after the shooting.
“The sheriff met the challenge,” Ali said. “He made the investigation transparent, he held everyone accountable.... We called for punishment, for discipline, and more importantly, we called for more training. And he met all our demands.”
He said the deputies’ punishments were sufficient.
“There was no bad intent on the deputies’ part,” Ali said.
But resident Terry Moore, 48, said that the punishments should have been stiffer.
“I don’t think they should lose their jobs because I know we need them and I don’t think we should be so hard on the deputies,” said Moore, who scrambled to safety after the driver of the pursued vehicle drove up to her lawn and deputies drew their weapons. “I think they should have been suspended at least a month. All of them just went ballistic.”
Baca blamed a collective failure for the high number of bullets fired.
“We’re all to blame for this,” he said. “Not having equipment properly inspected and prepared for us, that’s as much my problem as anybody else’s.”
But, he said, despite the lack of training and the faulty equipment, the deputies should have done better.
“Even with all the proper training, I think the deputies could have used better judgment,” Baca said. “We can’t offer that as an excuse. We can only say more could have been done.”
An attorney for nine of the 10 deputies who opened fire criticized Baca for what he called the across-the-board punishments.
The deputies “lived up to the core values of the department and to use them for political motive is just not right,” said Gregory Emerson, general counsel of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Professional Assn.
Baca said he was still amazed by the amount of gunfire the deputies unleashed.
“We could account for 60 shots, but there’s 40 to 50 in space somewhere and that is unacceptable,” Baca said. “Some people shot all the bullets in their gun.”
However, Baca praised the deputies’ dedication to their work. He said that some residents had asked that several of the deputies not be transferred because they had helped their families in times of need.
“These deputies have been trained to respect the safety of all people, and trained to be leaders, to do right and fight what is wrong,” Baca said. “These deputies have a strong side and also a soft side, and the soft side emanates from their love of the community.”
Gennaco credited the Sheriff’s Department and Baca with providing the resources that led to an investigation that was “unprecedented in its timeliness.” He also praised the deputies for cooperating with his probe.
“The employees that were involved in the incident ... agreed to cooperate and to provide information and answers to questions in the interviewing process earlier in the investigative stream” than usual, Gennaco said.
Baca has announced changes in departmental policy regarding shooting at vehicles.
The policy still allows deputies to fire at moving vehicles only in the “extraordinary instance” that a deputy is under immediate threat of death or serious injury. However, it requires deputies to take cover, keep their distance and otherwise make tactical decisions that ensure that shooting will only occur if “there is no reasonable alternative course of action.”
Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.