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No criminal charges for La Mesa police detective who shot protester in head with beanbag round

Leslie Furcron, in sunglasses and with bandages showing above one eye, speaks at a June news conference.
Leslie Furcron, who was shot in the head with a bean bag round during a protest, speaks at a June news conference.
(Sam Hodgson / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The La Mesa police detective who fired a beanbag round at a 59-year-old protester during a riot in May, leaving her partially blind, will not face criminal charges, the San Diego County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday.

A review of evidence concluded that Det. Eric Knudson was acting reasonably in defense of himself and others when he fired the round during a melee, mistakenly believing that protester Leslie Furcron had thrown a rock. Her attorney said it was an empty can of Red Bull. Authorities said video confirmed the object was a can.

The findings are laid out in a 25-page letter released Wednesday and signed by Dist. Atty. Summer Stephan.

“Detective Knudson believed Ms. Furcron had thrown a rock. He was incorrect. Ms. Furcron threw a can, but his belief was not unreasonable given the totality of circumstances the officers were dealing with over several hours of protesting and rioting where they were subject to rocks being thrown at them continuously,” the letter reads.

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The letter, addressed to La Mesa police officials, includes the first disclosure of Knudson’s version of events in the chaotic scene outside the La Mesa Police Department on May 30, during a riot that started as a demonstration against racial injustice and police bias.

Her attorney says Leslie Furcron did not deserve to be shot in the head with a beanbag after throwing an object during a May 30 protest in La Mesa.

The review found “no evidence Detective Knudson intended to aim at Ms. Furcron’s head.” Furcron required surgery to remove the beanbag round embedded in her head. She is now blind in one eye and is suing the detective and the city of La Mesa.

Furcron’s attorney, Dante Pride, lambasted the findings, saying there was “no accountability.” His client, he said, suffered “life-altering damage the D.A. passes off as ‘Oh well, it was a mistake.’ ”

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“It makes absolutely no sense to me,” Pride said.

La Mesa police spokesman Lt. Greg Runge said the department was aware of the findings and would “be working to complete our internal investigation of the incident.” Knudson remains on paid administrative leave.

Demonstrators descended on La Mesa Police Department on May 30, days after the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minnesota police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes.

The protests targeted La Mesa in particular after the controversial arrest of a Black man near a trolley station a few days earlier. Video of the incident — in which an officer can be seen repeatedly pushing the 23-year-old man down onto a concrete bench — went viral. The officer was fired, and Stephan’s office announced Monday that he’d been charged with filing a false report.

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Matthew Dages was fired about two months after the incident, following an investigation into the arrest of Amaurie Johnson.

After a few hours, the demonstration descended into a melee. Some hurled bottles and large rocks at officers, who deployed tear gas and fired beanbag rounds. Small fires were set in City Hall, and rocks crashed through the Police Department’s windows.

According to the review, Knudson told investigators he’d thought he saw a protester throw a rock.

“Knudson said that in order to stop the immediate threat and to protect the deputies from injury, he aimed for center mass on the protester and deployed one beanbag round at the person,” according to the letter.

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He said he saw the person go down and heard shouts that the person had been shot in the face. Knudson told a fellow officer that he had not aimed for the face and that the person had been throwing rocks. He also said he initially did not know he’d shot a woman.

In his report, he said he’d shot a “light-skinned male.” The person he shot, however, was Furcron, a Black woman. Knudson said he’d aimed for the person’s “center mass,” not the face.

The review gives the accounts of others as well, including a protester who saw Furcron recording the events with her cellphone, then saw her get hit with something and fall to the ground, with a cork-like object lodged in her head.

Furcron had arrived at the demonstration shortly before she was shot. By then, police had declared it an unlawful assembly.

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Federal authorities are also investigating the incident.

Figueroa writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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