LAPD investigates officer’s shooting of unarmed man after Burbank chase

Investigators stand at the scene where Sergio Navas, 35, was fatally shot by an LAPD officer in Burbank in March.

Investigators stand at the scene where Sergio Navas, 35, was fatally shot by an LAPD officer in Burbank in March.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Trying to shake the police chasing him, the man steered the stolen car onto the leafy street and hit the accelerator.

It was a dead end. Seconds later, gunshots cracked the quiet of the night.

As day broke over the normally tranquil Burbank neighborhood off Pass Avenue not far from the sprawling Warner Bros. studios, Los Angeles Police Department investigators were only beginning to piece together the details of how and why a pursuit early Thursday morning ended with a police officer opening fire on the suspect while still seated inside his patrol car.


The suspect, whom authorities have not yet identified, was hit by the gunfire and died at the scene. Police found no evidence that he was armed, a spokesman for the department said.

The deadly encounter came amid the controversy over another LAPD shooting this week, in which three officers killed a homeless man in downtown’s skid row. In that shooting, the officers fired when, according to police, the man attempted to grab an officer’s handgun during a struggle. Millions of people viewed a bystander’s video of the incident online, igniting fierce public debate over whether the officers acted appropriately.

The pursuit Thursday began about 1:45 a.m., when two LAPD officers patrolling in a marked SUV noticed the driver of a gold Mercury Sable with temporary, paper license plates driving erratically on Magnolia Boulevard near Riverton Avenue in North Hollywood, police said. Afterward, police would determine that the car had been reported stolen late last month.

The officers attempted to make a traffic stop, but the driver sped away, soon crossing the city boundary into Burbank. After a chase of about six minutes, the driver, whom police described only as a Latino man in his 20s, turned onto National Avenue, a short, residential street that ends in a cul-de-sac.

One resident said she heard cars speeding down the street and the scrape of metal on pavement as one vehicle bottomed out on the road. The emergency lights from the police car lit up her bedroom “like a Christmas tree.”

As they approached the end of the street, the two vehicles collided. LAPD officials initially said the suspect had rammed the officers purposefully, but soon backtracked, saying that was not accurate.

With the police and suspect alongside each other, the officer riding in the SUV’s passenger seat fired multiple shots into the suspect’s car, said Officer Jack Richter, a department spokesman. Shattered glass littered the ground after the vehicles were towed away.

With no weapon found on the man, the department’s internal investigation will focus on why the officer fired. Police who resort to deadly force must be able to show that they reasonably believed their life or someone else’s was in imminent danger.

LAPD officials did not immediately identify the officers involved in the incident.

After being shot, the man left the car and attempted to escape, but was quickly apprehended and handcuffed on the sidewalk. A bloodstain on the pavement and a black latex glove apparently discarded by a coroner’s official marked the spot Thursday afternoon.

He died outside of an apartment building where Carolina and Ryan Brenton live. Like others in the neighborhood, the couple recalled being jolted awake by the sound of gunshots and described a chaotic, unsettling scene in the minutes afterward.

Over and over an officer shouted, “What are the cross streets?” Ryan Brenton remembered.

Brenton, a nurse, said he offered to assist paramedics as they worked to revive the suspect, but he wasn’t allowed.

“I remember looking into his eyes during the chest compressions,” he said.

There was a bullet wound covered by gauze “dead center in the chest.”

“It’s shocking,” Brenton said. “I’m numb. I sleep with my windows open. It makes you think twice.”

Times staff writer Joseph Serna contributed to this story.