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L.A. County deputies who shot and killed Dijon Kizzee will not be charged

VIDEO | 02:25
Video: Sheriff presents new narrative in Dijon Kizzee’s killing

Warning: This video contains images that viewers may find disturbing. At a news briefing, sheriff’s officials offered another version of events of what led up to the fatal shooting on Aug. 31, 2020.

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Two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies will not face criminal charges for the fatal August 2020 shooting of Dijon Kizzee, whose death in South Los Angeles sparked days of protests and outrage.

In a 19-page memo released Tuesday in response to a public records request filed by The Times, prosecutors said deputies Christian Morales and Michael Garcia “reasonably believed, based on the totality of the circumstances, that force was necessary to defend against a threat of death when they initially fired their weapons.”

Kizzee was killed by two volleys of gunfire following a traffic stop and brief foot pursuit in the 1200 block of West 109th Place in the Westmont neighborhood.

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Some witnesses and activists have long alleged that the 29-year-old was unarmed at the time of the shooting; however, prosecutors accepted Morales and Garcia’s assertion that Kizzee picked up a handgun he’d dropped while running away from deputies and pointed it at them before they opened fire the first time.

While it remains unclear whether Kizzee was close to the weapon when the deputies opened fire a second time — video from the scene is grainy and partly obstructs view of the incident — prosecutors decided they could not prove the second round of gunfire was criminal, according to the memo.

No footage actually shows Kizzee holding a weapon. Sheriff’s deputies did not begin using body-worn cameras until two months after Kizzee was killed.

Morales and Garcia first encountered Kizzee when he was riding a bicycle on the wrong side of the road, and they tried to stop him for a traffic violation, authorities have said.

Kizzee dropped the bike and fled. Deputies caught up to him a block away and found Kizzee appearing ready to surrender with his hands wrapped in towels or garments, according to the memo. Instead, Kizzee punched Morales in the face, causing Garcia to “run in to assist,” the memo said.

In the struggle, a handgun fell to the ground, according to the memo.

“Kizzee bent down and picked up the pistol. Morales stepped back, drew his weapon, and fired multiple shots at Kizzee, who turned away from Morales and fell to the ground, substantially out of view of the surveillance camera,” the memo read.

As Kizzee collapsed from his injuries, both deputies thought he was reaching for the weapon a second time and fired another volley, according to the memo. Kizzee was shot 16 times.

The Sheriff’s Department did not immediately respond to questions about Morales and Garcia’s statuses with the department. An attorney for Kizzee’s family did not respond to an email seeking comment.

For the record:

10:29 a.m. Nov. 17, 2022An earlier version of this story reported that Gascon had met with Kizzee’s family. Representatives from the district attorney’s office met with the family the day after this article published, but Gascon did not.

“My heart goes out to Mr. Kizzee’s family for the loss of their loved one,” Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón said in a statement. “As District Attorney, I have prioritized conducting thorough reviews of homicides and shootings of civilians by law enforcement and have not shied away from pursuing criminal charges against law enforcement officers when I believe the evidence is sufficient to prove a crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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Members of Gascón’s team offered to meet with the Kizzee family to discuss the office’s rationale in declining to prosecute the deputies, according to the statement.

Kizzee had moved to the Antelope Valley with his mother and younger brother to escape the gang violence of the South Los Angeles neighborhood where he was born and raised. He was an unemployed plumber at the time of the shooting and was visiting friends in the city the day he was killed.

Some witnesses contended Kizzee did not throw a punch at Morales, and others said his hands were empty when he was killed. Latiera Irby, 29, said that she saw Kizzee get into a scuffle with the deputies and that they opened fire only after Kizzee had fallen to the ground.

“He had nothing in his hands,” she said around the time of the shooting.

None of the footage shows Kizzee holding a weapon, but prosecutors said images from the scene helped validate the deputies’ version of events.

“The fact that scene photos show the pistol ended up many feet east of where Kizzee bent down further corroborates the deputies’ statements that he picked up the pistol before he turned away from them and then dropped it next to his body near the driveway apron,” the memo read.

Although it’s unclear whether Kizzee was still a threat when deputies continued to fire as he lay on the ground, prosecutors said there is no evidence to disprove the fact that he was potentially reaching for a gun.

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Sheriff Alex Villanueva did not comment directly on the merits of the decision not to prosecute the deputies. But he referenced Kizzee’s case Tuesday during a freewheeling, grievance-fueled news conference in which he conceded defeat to former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna in his bid for a second term.

Villanueva repeated allegations he had made weeks ago without evidence that Gascón was holding back decisions not to prosecute Sheriff’s Department officials in controversial police killings and use-of-force cases in order to harm the sheriff’s reelection bid. In Kizzee’s case, he insisted Gascón’s office had decided not to prosecute the deputies in May.

Villanueva also insisted Gascón was hiding from the public the fact that he would not charge the deputies who killed 18-year-old Andres Guardado two years ago in Gardena. The sheriff also said Gascón would not prosecute a deputy who allegedly knelt on an inmate’s head for several minutes. Ironically, Villanueva himself has been accused of hiding that incident from the public.

Such decisions, when finalized, result in the creation of a public report that would be disseminated to the law enforcement agency involved, the officers involved and the family of the person on whom force was used.

Under questioning from a Times reporter at the early November news conference, Villanueva admitted he did not have any of those documents, nor had he spoken to the alleged whistleblower inside the district attorney’s office who had provided him the information. The Sheriff’s Department did not respond to additional questions from The Times on Tuesday.

The Times filed a public records request for all public documents related to the cases Villanueva made allegations about on Nov. 3. Thus far, the district attorney’s office has turned over only records related to Kizzee’s death. The Times received those documents Tuesday morning.

Tiffiny Blacknell, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said previously that Villanueva told “many lies” during the Nov. 3 news conference and dismissed the news conference as a “media stunt.” With one exception, however, she has not responded to specific questions about Villanueva’s allegations.

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On Tuesday, another office spokesman, Greg Risling, said a prosecutor from the office’s Justice Systems Integrity Division made a recommendation about Kizzee’s case earlier this year, which Gascón sent back for further review.

Risling did not say when that happened, or what the initial recommendation was, though the documents related to Kizzee’s killing had been approved for public release on Nov. 2, the day before Villanueva’s news conference.

Blacknell also said prosecutors made a recommendation to Gascón last month in Guardado’s case, though she would not say what the recommendation was.

Gascón “sent the case back” to the integrity division for further review, Blacknell said, something that rarely happened under his predecessors. The status of Guardado’s case remained unclear as of Tuesday.

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