Unarmed man shot by police is identified
An unarmed man who was shot by Los Angeles police after he allegedly pointed a towel-covered hand in their direction typically walked with a rag to wipe away sweat, his son said.
The officers thought the man, identified Monday as Walter William DeLeon, 48, was holding a gun under the gray towel when he pointed his hands at them and moved toward them “aggressively,” LAPD officials said. He remained in critical condition Monday evening.
When reached by phone, DeLeon’s 18-year-old son said he was shocked to learn that his father had been shot by police.
“At first, I thought it was like a random person that did it,” William DeLeon said. “Then I found out it was the cops. I didn’t understand why, because I know my dad wouldn’t do anything to provoke it.”
Walter DeLeon, a father of two, worked in construction, his son said. His family spent part of the day at his bedside.
“He still hasn’t woken up yet,” William DeLeon said.
The younger DeLeon declined to say more, saying that his family was getting legal advice.
LAPD officials said two officers were stopped in traffic along a congested section of Los Feliz Boulevard on Friday evening when DeLeon approached their patrol car. The officers got out of their car and the man drew his hands together and pointed at them, police said.
Fearing that DeLeon had a gun, police said, the officers ordered him to drop the weapon. When he didn’t respond, one officer opened fire.
No gun was found.
LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith cautioned Monday that the investigation into the shooting near Tica Drive was still in its early stages. Investigators are trying to determine why DeLeon approached the officers, he said, as there was no disabled car nearby or injury to his towel-wrapped hand that would indicate he needed help.
“He didn’t appear to be flagging down the officers because of some sort of emergency,” Smith said.
Smith said the LAPD had identified witnesses who saw the shooting. He declined to say what those witnesses told investigators, but said they were “pretty clear about what they saw.”
“It’s way too early to speculate on different aspects or different possibilities with any kind of accuracy,” he said.
The shooting occurred about 6:30 p.m. Friday along an apartment-dotted stretch of Los Feliz Boulevard that is popular among joggers and people walking their dogs. Griffith Park is a few blocks away. A stretch of boutiques and restaurants is also within walking distance.
Michael Coscia, who has lived in the neighborhood for 11 years, was reading on his couch when he heard three gunshots. Coscia said he ran to his bathroom window and peered outside, seeing two officers across the street with their guns drawn.
A man was lying face-down on the grass, Coscia said, his head covered in blood. He watched as the officers holstered their guns, flipped the man over and handcuffed him. Police cars and helicopters quickly swarmed the area.
Natalie Gomez was watching with binoculars from the window of her apartment across the street.
“This poor guy was face-down, handcuffed, blood just gushing,” she said.
Many residents said they still had questions about what happened, including why police shot a man who didn’t have a gun.
“I got upset after I found out he was unarmed,” Coscia said.
Steve Soboroff, the president of the civilian Police Commission that oversees the LAPD, urged the public to consider the officers’ perspective of the events leading up to the shooting.
“Try and put yourself in the officers’ shoes. This is about what happened pre-shooting, not after the shooting,” he said. “Let’s find out the facts, just like every other shooting.”
Charles “Sid” Heal, a retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s commander, said it can be difficult for the public to understand an officer’s perspective during such incidents. Police shootings usually unfold within seconds, he said. The stakes are life or death, he said, and less-lethal options such as a Taser are often no match for someone with a gun.
As a result, Heal said, mistakes are sometimes made. More training can help, he added, but won’t fully eradicate such shootings because each presents its own unique set of circumstances that police can’t fully prepare for.
“It will improve our response, but it will not eliminate these,” he said.
The shooting marked the 19th time Los Angeles police officers shot someone this year, according to department figures. Of those, eight have been fatal.
The two officers involved have been removed from the field until LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and other command staff receive an initial update on the investigation, which is called a 72-hour briefing.
The officers’ names have not been released. They were assigned to patrol Griffith Park as part of the LAPD’s Security Services Division, a detail that provides security to city-owned properties, Smith said.
The shooting was one of two by LAPD officers Friday. Earlier in the day, LAPD officers wounded an assault suspect who led them on a two-hour chase that ended in El Monte. Police said that man got out of his vehicle covered in a blanket. At some point, police said, the man dropped the blanket and pointed a gun at the officers, prompting them to open fire.
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