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Off-duty LAPD officer broke policy by firing at fleeing suspects, panel finds

Los Angeles Police Department headquarters
The Los Angeles Police Department’s downtown headquarters.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
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An off-duty Los Angeles police lieutenant broke department policy when he opened fire on a car after its passenger shot someone on the sidewalk, the LAPD’s civilian oversight panel ruled Tuesday.

Though Lt. Victor Arellano said he feared being shot himself when he fired his handgun, an internal review board found that he did not see anyone in the car aiming a gun at him or posing any other specific threat. Department policy bars officers from firing at moving vehicles unless someone in it is threatening them or someone else with immediate deadly force.

The panel found that the Honda Civic had already passed by Arellano when he ran into the roadway and fired at it from more than 60 feet away rather than take cover. Arellano did not hit either of the teenagers in the car, who were 15 and 17 years old.

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According to a report on the shooting submitted to the civilian Police Commission by LAPD Chief Michel Moore, the review board was critical of Arellano’s decision to enter the street instead of taking cover.

The board and Moore found that an officer with similar training and experience as Arellano would not have reasonably believed the suspect “presented an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury” at the time of the shooting, meaning Arellano’s decision to fire was not “proportional, objectively reasonable, or necessary.”

The five-member Police Commission agreed, unanimously. Arellano will now face discipline for breaking department policy, but that discipline process is largely closed from public view.

Arellano, who served on the Wilshire Area Gang Impact Team, could not be reached for comment.

According to Moore’s report, Arellano said that he had tried to lower his seat backward in his own car after witnessing the shooting so that the suspects in the Honda would not see him, but then realized they had seen him.

Believing they were gang members, Arellano feared they would try to kill him for being a witness, he told investigators.

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“I’m the only guy in the street. I’m the only witness. They want to kill their witnesses because they just shot a guy,” Arellano said of his thinking at the time. “So I’m their next target. And that’s what I felt like. In immediate defense of my life, I had to do something.”

After he shot at the Honda, Arellano called for an ambulance for the victim who he’d witnessed get shot on the sidewalk. That victim, who was shot in his abdomen, back, hip and neck, was transported to a hospital and survived, according to the chief’s report.

The two teenagers in the car, whose names were redacted from the chief’s report before it was provided to The Times on Tuesday, were later linked to the shooting through forensic evidence and arrested, the report said.

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