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Police Shoot Unarmed Suspect

Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles police officers shot and wounded an unarmed robbery suspect who was backing his car toward them early Tuesday, less than two months after the LAPD adopted strict rules designed to prevent firing at moving vehicles.

Investigators said they were still trying to determine why the three officers opened fire and whether they complied with the new policy. The rules, adopted Feb. 16 by the Los Angeles Police Commission, say officers cannot shoot at a moving vehicle unless they or bystanders are in imminent danger.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Mar. 31, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 31, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
Police shootings -- An article in Wednesday’s California section about the shooting on Tuesday of an unarmed robbery suspect by Los Angeles police officers said 13-year-old Devin Brown was killed Feb. 6 when he was shot 10 times by an LAPD officer. The officer fired 10 shots, but not all of them struck Brown.

The policy was adopted after an LAPD officer killed Devin Brown, 13, at the end of a high-speed chase in South Los Angeles on Feb. 6. The officer fired into Brown’s vehicle, which was later determined to be stolen, after the boy allegedly backed up toward the police cruiser.

Although the commission adopted the new policy 43 days ago, the LAPD has yet to fully implement it, spokeswoman Mary Grady said.

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Commanders told officers of the change soon after it was approved, but the training video that provides details has yet to be distributed.

Police Chief William J. Bratton was scheduled to brief his command staff this morning on a roll-call video detailing the policy change, Grady said. Rank-and-file officers will view the video in coming days and weeks, she said.

At least two City Council members said Tuesday that the latest shooting demonstrated the need to complete the training as soon as possible.

“It’s important to have the boundaries identified, and that can’t happen fast enough,” Councilman Ed Reyes said. “There was a time when officers could chase somebody and shoot at them without any second thoughts. Today, you have to be judicious with the power of having a gun in your hand.”

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The LAPD released a brief description of Tuesday’s shooting. But several police sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, offered a more detailed account.

The incident unfolded on 64th Street near Avalon Boulevard when a woman who said two men had just robbed her, flagged down officers on patrol, according to the sources. They added that as she spoke to the officers, she saw the suspect’s black Honda drive by. The officers got in their car and gave chase, joined moments later by a second black-and-white car.

The fleeing car, which contained a second suspect as well, crashed into a gray Lincoln Town Car a few blocks away at 65th and San Pedro streets. The three officers began shooting when the Honda backed toward them, the sources said, adding that about a dozen shots were fired.

Marsha Carter was outside her apartment at 64th and San Pedro when she saw two police cars heading south on San Pedro and another car heading north. She said she heard the car crash and, seconds later, gunfire.

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“I went inside and got on the floor,” she said.

Jose de Leon, who lives down the block from Carter, said the sounds of four or five shots awakened him. Then he heard a voice from a helicopter loudspeaker.

“I heard a man’s voice saying in Spanish, ‘Get down with your hands on your head. Get out of the car,’ ” he said.

Police would not give the names of either the officers or the injured suspect, who was taken to an undisclosed hospital. Neither would authorities release information about his condition. The second suspect was unharmed and booked on suspicion of resisting arrest.

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People in the neighborhood of apartment buildings and duplexes said they were used to hearing shots.

“It’s not even new around here,” said Robert Branagk, who lives around the corner from the shooting site. “You see it all the time. It’s like entertainment. You can just sit on the porch and watch.”

Bratton originally called for an updated policy in January 2004, after officers shot and killed a robbery suspect who had backed toward them slowly at the end of a pursuit in Santa Monica. The shooting was captured on live television.

But when, more than a year later, Officer Steve Garcia shot Brown 10 times, the Police Commission had not yet made the change. The shooting sparked protests by community activists, some of whom questioned why the new policy was not yet in place.

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Bratton responded that it would take several weeks to finalize the policy. But he then reversed course and completed the new guidelines in days, amid pressure from Mayor James K. Hahn.

Although some applauded the tougher language of the new rules, many pointed out that they continued to ultimately leave the decision about firing into a moving car in officers’ hands.

A central question in the investigations of Tuesday’s shooting and the Brown slaying will be whether the moving cars jeopardized officers’ lives.

“Very scary things happen in a very short period of time,” Councilman Jack Weiss said. “The training needs to be swift, thorough and comprehensive.”

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Bob Baker, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said the public should not expect officers to change tactics overnight.

“It’s unfair for officers to play guessing games about what they can and can’t do when their lives are on the line,” he said. “That’s unrealistic. You can’t change a policy on Monday and expect officers to immediately react, when they haven’t had the training.”


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