Probe into police actions sought

Times Staff Writers

Civil rights activists alarmed by the fourth officer-involved fatal shooting in Inglewood since May called Monday for congressional and local inquiries into the use-of-force policies of the Inglewood Police Department.

A day after police fatally shot Eddie Felix Franco, a 56-year-old homeless man who was carrying what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, police and city officials refused to disclose details of the Sunday afternoon confrontation. A man sitting in a nearby car was wounded.

At the police station Monday, Lt. Oscar Serrano said that the department was investigating the incident. He replied “no comment” to all questions, including the condition of the wounded bystander.


Police Lt. Steve Overly said that “multiple officers were involved and multiple shots were fired.”

Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks, who was at the scene of the shooting Sunday but did not speak to reporters, could not be reached for comment Monday.

None of Inglewood’s five City Council members were available for comment by phone or at their houses. A man who answered the phone at the home number of Mayor Roosevelt Dorn hung up when a Times reporter called.

Leaders from several Los Angeles-area youth and civil rights organizations expressed concern Monday over what they described as the “extremely controversial circumstances” surrounding four shootings by Inglewood officers in as many months.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, and other leaders said they have appealed to the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives to hold hearings on the use of deadly force by Inglewood officers.

“This is a small city. It has a small police department, and when you have this number of shootings in such a short period of time, that just leaves so many questions,” said Hutchinson, who spoke at the scene of the most recent shooting.


At an Inglewood City Hall rally in July after the third fatal shooting, Hutchinson said, “speaker after speaker voiced their concerns about the Inglewood Police Department and definitely about the use of deadly force. So obviously there’s a wide body of concern and opinion in the community.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) had asked the U.S. attorney general’s office to investigate the Inglewood department after the previous shootings.

The latest officer-involved killing began Sunday afternoon when Rodney Phillips, 40, an employee of Woody’s Bar-B-Que, called 911 after seeing a shirtless man with what Phillips described as a chrome-plated gun tucked in the front of his waistband. The homeless man was pushing a shopping cart stuffed with plastic bags and soiled clothing in the 400 block of South Market Street.

Another man and a dog were with him, Phillips said.

A Police Department statement said that officers responded within two minutes of receiving the 1:47 p.m. call. Once there, officers saw that one man “had a chrome handgun tucked in his waistband” and ordered him and the second man to raise their hands, the statement said. The second man complied with police and was detained without incident, the statement said.

The man carrying what appeared to be a gun refused to obey police commands and “a less lethal weapon was deployed, but was ineffective,” the statement said. When the man reached for his waistband, officers fired, killing the man and wounding the dog.

Lt. Gabriela Garcia described the item carried by the dead man as a “replica of a silver automatic.” Police released a photo of what appeared to be a shattered plastic silver gun, but did not release more information about it.


The man was taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 2:50 p.m.

A male bystander suffered a graze wound to the head, according to a source close to the investigation who was not authorized to speak and asked not to be named.

At the scene of the shooting Monday, the street was still stained with blood and at least 13 bullet holes pocked the wall of a building.

Larry Ross, 51, sat on a green metal bench less than 100 feet from the scene. Ross, who said he has been homeless and staying on Inglewood’s streets since 1994, said he was in the same spot Sunday when he heard continuous gunfire.

Ross said he turned and looked to see six to eight police cars at Market Street and Hillcrest Boulevard.

“I didn’t hear anyone scream ‘Put your gun down!’ or a dog barking, I just heard gunshots,” Ross said.

The Inglewood department is now under investigation by the Office of Independent Review, a law enforcement monitor created by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.


Merrick Bobb, an expert in police accountability, said that this review will probably lead to a fair and thorough investigation of the four shootings.

“Will that answer all the questions systemically about why these shootings are occurring in Inglewood? Probably not,” Bobb said, adding that another inquiry, perhaps led by a specially created blue ribbon commission or the civil rights unit of the Justice Department, would be appropriate.

Inquiries are already underway into three other fatal shootings by Inglewood officers, including an investigation by the county Office of Independent Review.

On May 11, officers killed 19-year-old Michael Byoune and wounded two other men. Police reports said the officers mistakenly believed the men, who proved to be unarmed, were firing at them.

On July 1, Ruben Walton Ortega, a 23-year-old alleged gang member, was shot and killed by an Inglewood police officer when police said he reached into his waistband as he ran from an officer. Police said the officer believed Ortega was armed.

On July 21, police shot and killed Kevin Wicks, 38, after police said he raised a gun at Officer Brian Ragan, who was responding to a report of a family disturbance at Wicks’ apartment complex. Ragan was one of two officers involved in the May 11 shooting death of Byoune.




Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Duke Helfand and Carol Williams contributed to this report.