Former Whittier police officers charged with assault in 2020 shooting that left man paralyzed

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón announced assault charges Wednesday against two former Whittier police officers who are accused of shooting a fleeing unarmed suspect in 2020 and severing his spine.
(Associated Press)

Two former Whittier detectives were charged with assault Wednesday on allegations that they shot a fleeing unarmed suspect in the back, severing his spine following a brief pursuit in 2020.

Cynthia Lopez, 34, and Salvador Murillo, 41, each face multiple assault charges for the incident that left Nicholas Carrillo paralyzed from the waist down, according to Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón.

Lopez and Murillo were driving in an unmarked vehicle when they spotted a Mitsubishi sedan that was allegedly linked to a robbery at a Whittier Walmart, Gascón said. The detectives followed the vehicle into an alley, left their car and drew their weapons. Then the driver of the sedan allegedly backed up and collided with the unmarked police car, according to Gascón, who described the collision as a “tap of bumpers.”


Carrillo, who was driving the vehicle, jumped out and started running away from Lopez and Murillo. The detectives opened fire, striking Carrillo twice in the back, Gascón said.

“One shot completely severed his spinal cord, immediately paralyzing him from the waist down,” Gascón said. “Although he was lucky to survive, his life was forever changed.”

Carrillo was unarmed when the detectives fired, and no weapons were found in the vehicle, according to Gascón, who said parts of the shooting were captured on surveillance video.

The detectives were not using body-worn cameras because they were in plainclothes and their unmarked vehicle did not have a dashboard camera, said Diana Teran, director of the bureau of prosecution support operations who also oversees prosecutions of police misconduct.

Carrillo was not suspected in the robbery the detectives were investigating, according to Gascón, but police were looking for a female passenger in the sedan. The initial robbery did not involve a weapon and no one was injured, according to Teran. The woman eventually pleaded guilty to a crime, Teran said, but did not offer specifics.

Teran said the woman took a television from a Walmart in Whittier and briefly tussled with someone in the parking lot while fleeing with the stolen merchandise.


The robbery and shooting happened several weeks apart, Teran said. Calls to attorneys representing Lopez and Murillo were not immediately returned. Gascón said they could be arraigned early next week.

Lopez was charged with two counts of assault under the color of authority, one count of assault with a firearm and one count of shooting at an occupied vehicle. Murillo was charged with two counts of assault with a firearm and two counts of assault under color of authority.

If convicted, Lopez faces six years in state prison. Murillo would face nine years.

The officers are no longer employed by the Whittier Police Department, though Police Chief Aviv Bar would not say whether they resigned or were fired.

“The Whittier Police Department also conducted a separate administrative investigation of the shooting to determine if the involved officers, who were placed on leave following the incident and neither of whom currently works for the Department, complied with Department policies,” the chief said in a statement. “The Whittier Police Department, which is committed to responsible and accountable policing, will provide assistance to the District Attorney’s Office as needed.”

The charges are a part of a recent surge in attempts to prosecute police officers in shootings and in-custody deaths under Gascón.

Late last month, Gascón charged seven California Highway Patrol officers with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of Edward Bronstein following a 2020 traffic stop.


Lawrence Middleton, a special prosecutor hired by Gascón to review police shooting cases that prior administrations declined to prosecute, has also begun presenting evidence to a grand jury in an attempt to indict two Torrance police officers in the 2018 killing of Christopher DeAndre Mitchell.