A veteran Los Angeles police officer involved in a controversial shooting more than a decade ago opened fire last week on a group of robbery suspects after one allegedly brandished a gun, according to police.
In the afternoon of Aug. 6, Det. Jeff Nolte and his partner, Det. Donald Walthers, who both have worked as LAPD officers for about 20 years, were tracking a group of people suspected in a series of recent robberies in South Los Angeles. The pair were assigned to the department's elite Special Investigation Section.
Nolte and Walthers pulled over the suspects' car in the 900 block of East 49th Street after the group robbed another store, police said. The officers opened fire when Marquis Walker, an 18-year-old sitting in the back seat, pointed a gun in their direction, according to a news release issued by the Los Angeles Police Department. Walker was unharmed, but the three others in the car were all shot. Jessie Long, another 18-year-old man, was killed, while the female driver and another passenger were wounded. The number of times the officers fired and other details remain under investigation.
As is standard when officers are involved in shootings, Nolte and Walthers have been removed from field duty pending the outcome of an initial review of the incident by police command staff, Deputy Chief Charlie Beck said. The review is scheduled for today.
Nolte, who Beck described as "highly regarded and seasoned," came under scrutiny after a 1997 shooting. Nolte was leading a drug raid on a motel in Gardena when he encountered a suspected cocaine dealer. Saying later that the suspect had pointed a shotgun at him, Nolte said he acted "in immediate defense of his life" and fired twice. The suspect was shot in the hands.
The civilian panel that oversees the LAPD cleared Nolte of any wrongdoing. Four years later, however, evidence not seen by the panel surfaced in a civil trial and showed that the suspect had his hands in the air when Nolte fired. The suspect wasn't aiming a weapon at the officer, the jury found, but instead had been trying to surrender. The city paid the suspect $2 million in damages.
"I do not believe that any officer could reasonably have believed that this shooting was justified," said U.S. District Court Judge Nora Manella, who presided at the trial.
In the last several years, the LAPD has become more thorough when looking into officer-involved shootings. Investigators now typically take more than six months to complete internal investigations. LAPD officials have also tightened oversight of Special Investigation Section officers, who in the past have been criticized for being involved in a high number of shootings.
The recent incident was one of only a few shootings involving the unit in the last few years, Beck said.