The video showed a life-and-death struggle between two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and 23-year-old Noel Aguilar on the driveway of an apartment complex in Long Beach.
As the deputies tried to clap handcuffs on Aguilar, who was resisting arrest and was believed to have a gun, one deputy shot at Aguilar but hit his partner instead.
Aguilar continued to wrestle with the deputies.
“I didn’t shoot nobody,” Aguilar insisted before both deputies shot him at point-blank range.
The case is the latest in a series nationwide in which a bystander’s cellphone video captured the graphic details of authorities using lethal force against a suspect and raised questions about whether the force was justified.
Attorneys for Aguilar’s family released the video at a news conference last week and are asking for Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey to reopen the case. Lacey’s office previously rejected criminal charges against the deputies for Aguilar’s death.
The video appears to show that the deputy who was injured had already taken Aguilar’s gun before his partner fired the first shot. The injured deputy gave a similar account to investigators.
Angel Carrazco Jr., an attorney for Aguilar’s family, called the May 26, 2014, shooting “a blatant execution” because Aguilar already had been disarmed and was not a lethal threat.
“The way to de-escalate is to handcuff, Taser and use the baton on him,” said Carrazco, who has filed a federal civil lawsuit on behalf of the family. “You use the gun when you’re confronted with a gun or a knife, not when you’re not confronted with a lethal weapon.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California weighed in with a statement, calling the video “chilling” and saying it raises serious doubts about whether the deputies’ actions were justified. Executive Director Hector Villagra also called on Lacey to take another look at the case.
The deputy who fired the first shot may not have realized that his partner already had Aguilar’s gun. He told investigators that he fired because he believed Aguilar was reaching for a weapon, according to a D.A. memo explaining why the office rejected criminal charges.
The sheriff’s department said in a statement that an internal affairs investigation has been completed, and a force review committee will decide next month whether there were any policy, tactical, supervisory or training violations. Both deputies are back at work in the field, the statement said.
Aguilar was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk on Long Beach Boulevard about 9:45 a.m. when sheriff’s Deputies Albert Murad and Jose Ruiz tried to stop him, according to the district attorney’s memo.
Carrazco said he does not believe there was probable cause for the stop. Aguilar was the father of two young children and had spent eight months in jail for violating a gang injunction, Carrazco said.
Aguilar rode away from the deputies, then jumped off the bicycle and ran into an apartment complex on East 69th Way.
The deputies pursued Aguilar on foot, suspecting he had a gun. He ignored their commands, and they tackled him.
According to a sheriff’s department database, neither deputy previously was involved in a shooting.
In reaching its decision not to charge the deputies, the D.A.’s office also reviewed a bystander video, different from the one released last week, according to attorneys for Aguilar’s family.
The newly released video, filmed from the other side of a metal fence, begins with Aguilar face down on the ground and the deputies on top of him, trying to wrestle him into handcuffs.
“Is it a gun?” Ruiz asked as he bent over Aguilar.
“It’s a gun! It’s a gun!” Murad confirmed before cursing at Aguilar and telling him to stop moving.
Murad can be seen taking something from Aguilar and tucking it in his waistband.
Just as the deputies were about to handcuff him, Aguilar burst free and stood nearly upright. Ruiz fired a single shot at Aguilar but hit Murad in the abdomen instead.
“I’ve been shot!” Murad yelled.
“I don’t have any,” Aguilar replied.
Meanwhile, Murad took a gun from his waistband and placed it on the ground. Aguilar insisted several times that he didn’t shoot anybody.
“C’mon, man, why you pulling a gun on me?” Aguilar said just before Ruiz shot him once in the leg.
Murad then pulled his service weapon from its holster and shot Aguilar three times in the back.
Murad told investigators he fired because he heard Ruiz say “Gun!” and thought Aguilar had either taken Ruiz’s gun or had a second gun.