Protesters heckle LAPD chief at meeting in Westlake

After two days of protests and violent skirmishes, Los Angeles police officials struggled again Wednesday evening to calm anger in the wake of the fatal shooting of a knife-wielding man by an officer.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck was heckled and booed by many in the crowd of about 300 who attended a community meeting at John H. Liechty Middle School, a short walk from the scene of Sunday’s shooting.

“I hope we came here to have a discussion. Please let’s respect each other,” Beck told the unruly crowd.

“Respect us! When are you going to respect us?” yelled some. Others shouted, “Killers! Assassins!”

Beck, forced by the noise to step away from the microphone, stopped talking briefly. “I promise you a fair investigation,” he said when he returned after several minutes, reminding the crowd that he had close ties to the area, having once commanded the LAPD’s Rampart Division.

The turmoil stems from the killing of Manuel Jamines, 37, a Guatemala-born day laborer, who was shot by a police officer Sunday afternoon on a busy Westlake street.

Jamines, authorities said, had been threatening passers-by with a knife, and when confronted by three officers, ignored their orders to drop the knife. Officer Frank Hernandez, a 13-year department veteran, fired two rounds when Jamines came at him with the knife raised over his head, officials have said.

As Wednesday’s meeting was going on, scores of officers outside were preparing for the possibility of a repeat of Tuesday night, when a few hundred protesters rallied at the site of the shooting on 6th Street near Union Avenue. Some protesters threw rocks and bottles at officers, who responded by firing nonlethal foam projectiles. At least 22 people were arrested.

Near the meeting site Wednesday night, riot-clad police officers in patrol cars played a cat-and-mouse game with throngs of protesters along 6th Street.

A few hundred people gathered at Burlington Avenue and 6th in Westlake, where some hurled bottles at squad cars. Others shouted “Pig!” and profanities at officers as they got out of their vehicles, rifles in their hands.

At least one fire was lighted, but it was quickly extinguished. Authorities indicated that arrests had been made but had no firm numbers.

The vitriolic response to the shooting has surprised many department and elected officials. With the knife recovered at the scene, eyewitness accounts allegedly supporting the authorities’ claim that Jamines advanced aggressively toward the officers, and no racial overtones to the shooting, the incident did not seem to be one that would cause such an eruption of anger.

In an interview Wednesday, Beck blamed the unrest on outside groups that, he said, seized on the killing as an opportunity to foment anger toward the police.

The area’s large population of immigrant day laborers, who have struggled to find work during the city’s financial collapse and have grown frustrated with the LAPD’s aggressive stance against the neighborhood’s ubiquitous illegal street vendors, may have been particularly receptive to the calls for upheaval, Beck said.

“It has been a bunch of agitators pushing the envelope and using individuals as their pawns,” he said.

At least some of the disorder seemed to have been fueled by such groups. About a dozen people who appeared to be affiliated with the Revolutionary Communist Party handed out literature about the group’s beliefs and other cases of officer-involved shootings, and chanted messages over bullhorns about a communist revolution. Among those arrested Tuesday night was Jubilee Shine, 40, of South Los Angeles, who heads a group called the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police.

Hernandez, the officer who shot Jamines, remains ineligible for patrol assignments, police officials said. An officer involved in a shooting is kept off the streets until the chief has received a formal briefing on the incident and the officer is cleared by a department psychologist to return to full duty.

Hernandez has been through the process before. In two previous incidents, he shot and wounded two people while on duty, according to LAPD officials and records.

Citing privacy laws, Beck declined to discuss the past shootings, or any details of Hernandez’s personnel file. He voiced support for Hernandez, however, and indicated that the 39-year-old officer’s performance should not come under suspicion because of the multiple shootings.

“If we had any concerns about his ability to use deadly force, he wouldn’t be out in the field,” Beck said in an interview. “Each of these [shootings] need to be looked at in their individual contexts.”

In the previous shootings, Hernandez was found by LAPD officials and the agency’s oversight board to have acted within the department’s policies on the use of deadly force, according to LAPD sources who spoke on the condition that their names not be used because of privacy laws.

Hernandez first used his handgun in November 1999, his third year on the force. While assigned to the department’s Southwest Division, Hernandez and his partner responded to a robbery call and tracked the female suspect into the backyard of a home, according to an account released at the time by the department.

The pair opened fire when the woman allegedly pointed a handgun at them, according to the account. She fell to the ground, but allegedly reached for her weapon and ignored Hernandez’s orders to stop, causing him to shoot her again. A loaded semiautomatic handgun was recovered at the scene, according to the department’s account. At the time, the woman was listed in stable condition.

Almost a decade later, in December 2008, Hernandez and a different partner were helping to search for assault suspects in the LAPD’s Rampart Division. They approached an 18-year-old man they suspected of being involved in the assault, according to a department account of the incident released at the time. The man tried to flee, then pointed a gun at the officers, the account said. Hernandez shot the man once, wounding him.

Carol Sobel, a civil-rights attorney who has clashed with the LAPD over the use of force, echoed several protesters and residents in the area who questioned why Hernandez had not been able to shoot Jamines in the arm or leg.

“I can understand if the person has a gun, that the officer should shoot to kill. But, in this case, with a knife, it seems to me this could be excessive,” she said.

Deputy Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur, who oversees training for the LAPD, said officers are put through simulation machines that mimic real-life scenarios in which the decision to use deadly force must be made in seconds.

Officers are not taught to “shoot to kill” or to “shoot to wound,” she said, but are trained to aim always at an aggressor’s “center mass” — roughly the belly or chest — to stop the person from advancing. If that does not stop the person, officers are trained to aim at the suspect’s head, MacArthur said.

While police have not said where Jamines was struck, witnesses indicated that Hernandez shot him in the head. It is not known where Hernandez was aiming.