Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials are investigating why a group of deputies fired 70 rounds late Tuesday, killing a man who led them on a car chase and rammed their patrol cars.
Carl Williams, a 27-year-old Los Angeles resident, died of his injuries after six deputies opened fire on the car he was driving though Walnut Park.
The shooting comes as the Sheriff’s Department is struggling to deal with incidents of apparent “contagious fire,” in which one deputy’s gunfire prompts other officers to open fire.
The issue came to light last year after deputies fired 120 rounds at another car chase suspect in Compton, a scene caught on tape.
In January, 10 deputies in Compton fired 52 rounds into a home where a suspect was hiding, said Michael Gennaco, head of the Office of Independent Review, a sheriff’s watchdog agency.
“The number of shots fired is certain to be an issue here,” Gennaco said of the Walnut Park shooting.
Officials did not say how many of the bullets hit Williams. But the deputies fired from relatively close range, hitting the vehicle multiple times and shooting out the back window.
Alvaro Ramirez, 18, who lives in an apartment next to the shooting site, estimated that the gunfire lasted about 30 seconds. He said he hit the floor to take cover.
The pursuit of Williams began shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday, when deputies in a patrol car allegedly saw Williams driving erratically near 113th Street and Mona Boulevard and tried to pull him over, said sheriff’s homicide unit Capt. Ray Peavy.
Peavy said Williams allegedly refused to yield to the lights and siren. A second sheriff’s cruiser joined the pursuit.
“With radio cars in pursuit, he drove northbound through an alley at 60 mph and then purposely drove into a black and white blocking the alley exit,” Peavy said. “He really plowed into one of the patrol cars at a high rate of speed.... It was like a demolition derby and he wouldn’t stop.”
After hitting the patrol car, Williams allegedly struck a light pole with two patrol cars behind him near the intersection of 96th Street and Central Avenue, Peavy said.
A deputy in one of the patrol cars began to get out, believing that Williams had been injured, Peavy said.
“The suspect then put the car into reverse, and the deputy ran back into his car just before the driver’s door was struck by the suspect’s vehicle,” Peavy said.
Williams then pulled forward again before reversing a second time toward the passenger side of another sheriff’s patrol car, forcing a deputy standing next to the car back inside, Peavy said.
Deputies then opened fire.
Williams suffered multiple gunshot wounds and was taken to St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, where he died of his injuries.
Peavy said deputies told investigators they fired their guns because they considered Williams’ car a weapon, and they felt that their lives were in danger.
He said detectives recovered a loaded handgun from the front seat of Williams’ car and a substantial quantity of narcotics was found among his possessions at the hospital.
But there was no indication that deputies knew that Williams had the gun.
One eyewitness told investigators that Williams fired his weapon, but Peavy said detectives have determined that the gun had not been fired.
Investigators do, however, believe the gun and narcotics were Williams’ motive for fleeing the initial stop.
Williams’ shooting is under investigation by the sheriff’s homicide unit, Internal Affairs and Gennaco’s office.
Gennaco said he will specifically examine who fired the various rounds and when they were fired, given the number of shots fired.
“We’ll be looking at the action and tactics of each one of the deputies,” he said.
Gennaco said officials don’t know whether contagious fire is an issue in this case.
Contagious fire became an issue locally after Sheriff Lee Baca suggested that it may have played a role in last year’s shooting in Compton.
The deputies in that case fired toward each other, and their rounds struck several homes.
After that shooting, Baca moved to reduce contagious fire by implementing a new policy that allows deputies to fire at moving vehicles only when there is immediate threat of death or serious injury.
Under the policy, deputies are told to take cover from a safe distance, train a weapon on the suspect and give specific commands to surrender before shooting at a moving vehicle.
“This policy really means each deputy must be able to explain why they individually decided to shoot,” Gennaco said.