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Video shows La Mesa police detective shooting protester in head with beanbag

Leslie Furcron speaks at a news conference outside La Mesa City Hall on June 10
Leslie Furcron speaks at a news conference outside La Mesa City Hall on June 10.
(Sam Hodgson / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Police on Wednesday released a video that shows a police detective shooting a woman in the head with a beanbag after she apparently threw an object during a May 30 protest that turned violent outside the La Mesa Police Department headquarters.

The shot left Leslie Furcron, a 59-year-old Black grandmother who had joined the demonstration against police violence in the San Diego suburb just minutes earlier, with skull fractures and a loss of vision in one eye, according to Furcron, her family and her attorney.

She spent at least two days in a medically induced coma in intensive care and more than a week in a hospital, they said.

According to police, Furcron threw the unidentified object toward San Diego County sheriff’s deputies, who are not visible in the footage. The La Mesa police detective who shot her was positioned in a different location from the deputies.

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Furcron’s attorney, Dante Pride, said the video does not change his view that the shooting was an unjustified, excessive use of force.

“It’s a can thrown by a [59]-year-old woman,” Pride said Wednesday. “She threw something. That’s not something she should have been shot for.”

The release of the footage comes six days after Furcron filed a claim against the city alleging the officer who shot her used excessive force.

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She also took the city and the Police Department to court in late June when she filed a petition in an effort to force the release of the detective’s name, which the department had withheld, citing the ongoing investigation into the shooting, as well as concerns over his safety.

On Wednesday, police Chief Walt Vasquez identified him as Det. Eric Knudson, who has been on the force for 12 years and is now on paid administrative leave.

Vasquez had said previously that the investigation into the shooting would include an “in-depth” look at the Police Department’s crowd-control practices. The chief did not address crowd-control tactics Wednesday, when officials released a video statement from him, footage from two body-worn cameras and a “critical incident video” that spliced together several video sources.

“Please know that I continue to pray for Ms. Furcron in hopes that she continues to heal and makes a full recovery with her family at home,” Vasquez said in his video statement.

The shooting of Furcron occurred during one of the first local protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death earlier that week in Minneapolis. Floyd, a Black man, died after a white officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

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The May 30 protest in La Mesa devolved into violence, rock throwing and arson, as did another protest a day later in downtown San Diego. In the weeks that followed, demonstrators continued taking to the streets to protest police violence against Black people, with the near-daily local demonstrations remaining peaceful after the first weekend.

According to police, Knudson and Furcron were separated by about 96 feet — roughly the length of a basketball court — when he shot her.

Image from video released by La Mesa police shows the distance between a detective and a woman he shot with a beanbag May 30
An image from video released by La Mesa police shows the distance between a detective and a woman he shot with a beanbag round during a protest on May 30, which it said was 96 feet.
(La Mesa Police Department)

The police footage appears to show Furcron, more visible than other protesters because of her white shirt, throw an unidentified object. Police said she threw the item toward deputies positioned in a parking lot south of police headquarters.

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Just after Furcron throws the item, Knudson raises his weapon above the wall. In less than five seconds, he fires, and Furcron collapses.

Audio from the body-worn cameras indicate Knudsen thought Furcron was a man.

“That guy,” Knudson says to the officers around him. “That was the guy who’s throwing things. That guy who is down right now, he’s the one who was throwing things.”

As those around Furcron rush to help her, other protesters almost immediately began shouting at officers.

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“You guys shot her in the face,” one woman can be heard screaming.

Pride said he believes the footage was edited selectively to create a narrative that Furcron “deserved it” because she threw an object. He said he believes the officer shot her in retaliation for throwing something, not because she posed a threat, and questioned why the department didn’t release video of where the can she threw landed.

“I bet [it] ... came nowhere near officers,” Pride said.

The attorney said previously that witnesses had seen Furcron drop a soda can before she was shot. He and others, including Furcron’s sons, have called on the Police Department to fire the detective.

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According to the Police Department’s website, Knudson investigates domestic violence, adult sex crimes and vandalism cases. He was among the hundreds of La Mesa and San Diego police officers, sheriff’s deputies and California Highway Patrol officers called to respond to the May 30 protest and ensuing violence.

Knudson was honored as one of La Mesa’s “local heroes” in 2018 by the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

Riggins and Hernandez write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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