Protesters, LAPD clash as chief defends shooting
As Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck defended the fatal shooting of a day laborer and officials called for calm, protesters and officers clashed Tuesday night in Westlake near the site of the incident.
About 300 demonstrators gathered at the LAPD’s Rampart Station. Some in the crowd hurled eggs at police cars and others threw objects at the station windows, prompting officers in riot gear to push the throng along 6th Street.
Officers fired non-lethal projectiles at protesters near Union Avenue and 6th, where Manuel Jamines was fatally shot Sunday afternoon by an officer who said Jamines refused commands to drop a switchblade.
About 9:30 p.m., police declared the protest an unlawful assembly and moved in to disperse the crowd as trash cans were set on fire and rocks and bottles were thrown at officers.
As police pushed crowds on 6th, some protesters climbed atop multistory apartment buildings, where they threw objects at officers below. Officers fired non-lethal projectiles toward the rooftops as residents peeked from their windows.
Several officers suffered minor injuries after being hit by bottles and rocks, police said. At least 22 people were arrested on charges such as failure to disperse, said LAPD Sgt. Alex Chogyoji.
At an evening news conference, Beck said the three bicycle patrol officers who confronted Jamines had about 40 seconds to act and did as good a job as could be done in such a quick-moving, emergency situation.
“There was very, very little opportunity to do much more than what was done,” he said.
Beck identified the three officers involved as Frank Hernandez, a 13-year veteran; Steven Rodriguez, a five-year veteran; and Paris Pineda, who also has been on the force for five years
Hernandez fired the shots, Beck said.
Police showed photographs of the bloodied knife -- a switchblade that is about 6 inches long when opened -- that they say Jamines, 37, was holding at the time of the shooting. Investigators are testing the blood to see whose it is, the LAPD said.
Beck said the area where the incident occurred “is not an easy place to police,” in part because of its large immigrant population and widespread illegal vending.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was at the news conference, urged residents not to resort to violence. “We need to calm the waters,” he said.
That message failed to resonate with protesters.
Near 6th and Union late Tuesday, police fired at least two volleys of non-lethal projectiles. Demonstrators, including families with children, bolted down the street and into alleyways. Witnesses said a man fell off his bike and struck his head.
Jesus Alejandro Hernandez Carmona, 20, was lying on the ground, bleeding profusely from the left side of his head, near a candle-lit memorial to Jamines. He was surrounded by a crowd that was book-ended by police lined up along 6th at Union on the east and Burlington Avenue on the west.
Los Angeles Fire Department ambulances were at the scene but were not crossing the police line. When asked by a reporter why the man was not receiving medical attention, a police commander said, “Tough.”
Carmona was eventually helped to the ambulance by friends and received treatment.
Several people shouted angrily into loudspeakers and a group of young men wove through the crowd on bicycles. A vendor hawked bags of potato chips.
Vitalina Rubio, 52 looked on with disappointment as protesters hurled the eggs.
“You can’t fight violence with violence,” said Rubio, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in the MacArthur Park area for nine years.
Several cars and pedestrians were trapped amid the mass of demonstrators. One man kept shouting in Spanish, “I only wanted KFC!”
Earlier in the day, Beck briefed the civilian Police Commission on the shooting, explaining that the one officer who fired his weapon did so in “immediate defense of life.”
The chief’s defense of the shooting came amid continuing protests from some Westlake area residents who complained that police routinely mistreat them. They say officers toss food from illegal vending carts and verbally harass them.
“We want someone -- the mayor, a council member, anyone -- to come here and say enough is enough,” said resident Ana Lopez, 42. “The people want answers.”
Beck stressed that the investigation into Jamines’ death had just begun. But he promised it would be as transparent “as humanly possible.”
The incident started Sunday afternoon when Rampart Division’s bicycle unit responded to a call of a man threatening passersby with a knife.
The officers rode to the corner of 6th and Union , and found Jamines making threats. They confronted him with weapons drawn, repeatedly ordering him in English and Spanish to drop the knife, Beck said. But Jamines instead raised the knife over his head and came toward the officers, Beck said, at which point Hernandez fired two rounds.
Jamines was pronounced dead at the scene.
Sitting at the Guatemalan consulate’s office on Tuesday, three of Jamines’ cousins spoke somberly about his death. They described the father of three as a hard-working man who struggled with alcohol on the weekends. He came from a small town in Nahuala, Solola, where his body will soon be transferred by the consulate.
Isaias Jamines said Manuel had begun drinking about 9 a.m. on the day he died. He said he saw his cousin on 6th Street and asked him to quit drinking and go home. Moments later, when Isaias arrived at his apartment, he heard three gunshots.
“I couldn’t believe it was my cousin,” Isaias said.
“Why couldn’t they have shot him in the leg or somewhere else instead of killing him? He was drunk, but he was never a violent person.”
Juan Jamines, another cousin, asked the Westlake community to remain peaceful and cooperative.
“We don’t want problems,” Juan said. “We just want justice.”
Pablo Alvarado, the director of the National Day Laborer Network, said he hoped that the shooting would help start a dialogue between day laborers and police.
“Violence like this should not separate us but should draw us together,” he said.
Although some residents complained about the way police treated them, others -- including many business owners -- supported the efforts of the LAPD over the last several years to drive down drug dealing and other crime that was once much more rampant. The department earned wide praise for cleaning up MacArthur Park, and that continues to pay dividends for the community.
A town hall meeting will be held by the Police Department at John H. Liechty Middle School at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night.
Times staff writer Robert J. Lopez contributed to this report.