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LAPD officer killed a man who had thrown a hammer, video shows

Still image from police body-camera footage shows an officer pointing his gun at a man whose arm is ready to throw an object
Samuel Ponce was fatally shot by police last month in Westlake after they trailed him for several blocks and he threw a hammer at them.
(Los Angeles Police Department)

A Los Angeles police officer fatally shot a man last month in Westlake after the man threw a hammer at a group of officers who had followed him on foot for several blocks and fired hard foam projectiles at him, according to video of the incident.

The video footage, recorded by officers’ body-worn cameras and released on the Los Angeles Police Department’s YouTube channel last week, included radio chatter from early in the encounter. Officers discussed their belief that the man, later identified as Samuel Ponce, was mentally ill or intoxicated.

The video also captured a supervisor yelling out a barrage of orders to the officers — to tell Ponce in Spanish to drop the weapon, to shoot him with a projectile, to shoot him with a Taser, to aim better and shoot him again — as Ponce slowly walked away from the officers and appeared to beg God for help.

The video has raised new questions about the tactics deployed by the LAPD during such encounters. It comes at a time of growing consensus among city officials, top police brass and local activists that changes are needed in the way officers handle calls involving people showing signs of mental illness or substance abuse.

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In particular, one member of the civilian Police Commission, which oversees the department, has raised concerns in recent weeks about instances in which police used lethal force on suspects who wielded a knife or other dangerous object but were not armed with a gun.

The city of Los Angeles and L.A. County have launched pilot programs to increase the number of mental health experts and other medical providers available to help resolve such encounters peacefully. Officials, however, have also stressed that armed police officers will continue to take the lead in most instances in which the individuals in question are armed and potentially dangerous.

LAPD officers receive training in ways to de-escalate standoffs with armed suspects, including by slowing down encounters and increasing the space between them and the suspect. When possible, officers are supposed to use “less lethal” options such as Tasers or foam projectiles to subdue a suspect, rather than their firearms.

The video of Ponce’s shooting March 19 shows that officers at first kept a distance from him as they trailed him.

At one point, an officer asked whether they should try to take Ponce into custody, saying, “Do you want to go hands on with a hammer on him?”

The supervisor quickly responded: “No, no.”

Police instead fired projectiles at Ponce as he continued to walk, passing police vehicles and bystanders in cars. The situation grew increasingly chaotic as the projectiles didn’t stop him.

After being hit with a projectile, and possibly with a Taser, Ponce kept moving away from the officers, the video shows.

“Heavenly father, help me,” he said in Spanish.

Soon after, the supervisor told the group of officers to “flank” Ponce, and they moved in on him quickly. None appeared to be carrying a tactical shield.

It is then that Ponce came around a parked van into the street and threw the hammer at the officers from a close distance, the video shows. Ponce lifted a second object when at least one officer fired a Taser and another shot Ponce with his handgun. Ponce fell to the ground.

“Shots fired! Shots fired!” the officer said.

LAPD officials said a hammer and “a rear-mounted bicycle kickstand” were recovered from the scene.

The shooting was one in an unusually large cluster of LAPD shootings that occurred over the course of a couple of weeks last month. Police also released body-camera footage from an incident in which a SWAT officer was shot before a suspect was killed; one in which officers shot a man as he attempted to attack another with a knife; and one in which officers shot a man who was brandishing a gun outside the department’s Olympic Division police station.

The shooting of Ponce remains under investigation. After an internal LAPD review, it will go before the Police Commission, which will vote on whether the tactics and the shooting were within LAPD policy.

The video can be found here (viewer discretion advised).


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