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LAPD chief says he has ‘concerns’ about police shooting of man who held plastic fork

LAPD Police Chief Michel Moore
LAPD Police Chief Michel Moore attends a service at the Los Angeles Mission in April.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
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Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said Tuesday he had “concerns” after reviewing body-worn camera footage that showed a city police officer shooting and killing a man who charged at him while holding a plastic fork near Skid Row over the weekend.

Speaking to the Police Commission, Moore said an investigation of the incident was still in its infancy, but he questioned the unnamed officer’s actions. The man, 36-year-old Jason Lee Maccani, was taken to an area hospital, where he later died, Moore said.

After watching video of the encounter, Moore said he had “concerns relative to the actions of the officer involved.”

Moore said the department would probably identify the officer who shot Maccani in the next few days. The case is being investigated by the state Department of Justice, which handles most police shootings of unarmed individuals.

It was the third time this year that a Los Angeles police officer shot a person. The previous two incidents, both last month, resulted in civilians being wounded.

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Moore said officers encountered Maccani around 2:14 p.m. Sunday after being called by a business owner who said a man was threatening his employees with a stick at a warehouse in the 800 block of East 7th Street. Police were told that Maccani, who appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, had retreated into an office on the fourth floor of the warehouse, where he had access to “sharp objects,” Moore said. The business owner insisted that officers arrest Maccani, the chief said.

Moore said that when officers moved in to arrest Maccani, he “charged” toward them with a white object in his hand that he raised up to his chest. Believing that he was holding a knife, officers fired at Maccani with both a 40mm projectile launcher and a beanbag shotgun, Moore said.

Maccani appeared unaffected, Moore said, and had grabbed one officer’s beanbag shotgun when another officer shot him.

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, several commissioners said they were troubled by Moore’s account of what happened.

“We must have some training in place where officers can discern whether or not an individual is holding an object that represents a danger to someone,” said Commissioner William Briggs.

Commission President Erroll Southers said the incident raises questions about the effectiveness of the 40mm launcher. He asked Moore to report back on how other police departments are using the weapons, which fire “less lethal ammunition” designed to disable suspects.

The “public’s expectation” is that “these weapons systems stop people in their tracks,” Moore said, but that isn’t always the case.

Moore said the department overhauled its policy on the use of “intermediate threat” weapons about three or four years ago, based on an analysis of recent court decisions from that time that raised questions about the potential for harm.

Under the current policy, officers are expected to try to deescalate a situation first and only then are allowed to use such weapons on a person who posed an immediate public safety threat. Previously, they could be deployed when someone was “unsafe to approach,” meaning officers could intervene sooner in a potentially volatile encounter, Moore said.

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Commissioner Rasha Shields said she hadn’t seen the video of the encounter, but still had “serious concerns about how someone with a fork was being shot at.”

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The incident sparked a furious social media backlash, where some people seized on the fact that in the hours after the shooting, an LAPD spokesperson told news reporters that “any object can cause harm.” Others said the fact that officers killed someone armed with plastic cutlery underscored the need for developing alternatives to police for certain emergencies.

Some of the anger spilled over to the public comment period of the commission meeting, where the first caller questioned why officers would shoot someone who didn’t pose a danger to them.

“You couldn’t even give anyone a bruise with a white plastic fork,” the caller said.

The department has tried in recent years to address what critics have called an inordinate number of shootings involving people armed with knives, swords, heavy tools or other “edged weapons.”

While police officials have argued that such weapons represent real, imminent threats, activists and others claim the danger is exaggerated and that officers are too quick to pull the trigger without exploring other means of resolving a situation.

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