Fuller narrative emerges after officials release new video of fatal Lynwood shooting
Gun in hand, Nicholas Robertson strode into traffic late Saturday morning, almost causing an accident.
He wove his way around cars, crossing the busy Lynwood boulevard as a security camera on a nearby business recorded. A man and a woman ran as Robertson drew near. He was shouting angrily to no one, seemingly enraged.
Passing out of the camera frame, Robertson walked into Chico’s Pizza parlor, where Juan Roberto was sweeping the floor in a back room.
Roberto, 18, heard the angry ranting, then saw the man appear — a silver semiautomatic handgun in his left hand. The weapon’s slide was open, telling Roberto it was empty of bullets.
The video suggests they believe he had a gun. And they continue to shoot when he was on the ground, so that suggests they believe he was reaching for a weapon.
— Sid Heal, retired L.A. County sheriff’s commander
“He sounded angry about something,” Roberto said.
In less than minute, Robertson was back outside, just as two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies pulled up in their patrol cars.
Seeing them with their pistols drawn on him, Robertson turned and headed back across Long Beach Boulevard, shifting his gun from one hand to the other, according to the video. He waved off the deputies repeatedly, as if to tell them to leave. Stepping onto the sidewalk, he headed toward a gas station.
The deputies moved in closer as Robertson walked away, shouting at him to drop his gun, according to sheriff’s officials.
At 11 a.m., less than a minute after arriving at the scene, the deputy closest to Robertson, 28, opened fire. The other deputy immediately joined, as the two let off several bursts of gunfire.
This is the narrative that emerged Sunday from sheriff’s officials and witnesses to the shooting, which has generated national attention after a video showing parts of the incident became public Saturday.
The video showed the deputies repeatedly shooting the man, even after he fell to the ground and appeared to be crawling.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials on Sunday displayed photos and this video of a deputy-involved shooting in Lynwood on Saturday.
Looking to counter mounting anger, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials on Sunday released another video as well as still images that appeared to show Robertson gripping his gun as he crawled on the ground.
Sheriff’s officials said he posed a threat to passersby in the bustling shopping district along Long Beach Boulevard.
The department’s swift response to the controversy comes amid growing scrutiny — and protests — nationally and in Los Angeles over police shootings.
In releasing the footage, Sheriff Jim McDonnell cautioned that the investigation into the shooting was still in its early stages. But he said he made the decision to go public with the second video in light of the national debate over the use of deadly force by police, which arose after several controversial killings.
“There’s going to be criticism any time there’s a deputy-involved shooting,” McDonnell said at a news conference. “We see that, particularly in the past two years or so, the sentiment has been critical. That’s why we’ve come out today: to be as transparent as we can with the information we can share at this time to say, ‘Here’s what we have.’”
Community activist Najee Ali, who initially called the shooting “an execution,” backed away from earlier rhetoric after viewing the video. Instead, he said, he was “calling for the community not to rush to judgment.”
But the images showing Robertson wielding a gun did little to assuage the fury of family members, who gathered at the Arco gas station where he was killed, embracing and sobbing around a growing collection of candles and kerchiefs.
Later in the afternoon, activists arrived with a bullhorn, chanting, “Indict! Convict! Send the killer cops to jail!”
“Even if they want to say he had a gun, he never brandished it at you all.... They never showed him directly pointing the gun at the police,” said Monica Reddix, a cousin. Even if he had a gun, “that didn’t give them a right to kill him the way you all killed him. Why didn’t you all use less-lethal force?”
Robertson’s wife, Nekesha Robertson, described a family man, deeply devoted to the couple’s 6-year-old twins and 7-year-old daughter. “Any time you see him, you see him with the kids,” she said. “He’d take them to and from school. Help them with homework. He’s a daddy — that’s his job. He didn’t do nothing else.”
When her husband was killed, she had been on her way to find him, after a relative called to say he had been drinking. “He drinks. That’s the only thing he’s ever been in jail for,” she said.
Robertson was arrested once in 2008 on an unspecified misdemeanor charge, court records show.
A bystander’s video of the shooting, which went viral Saturday after being shown on television, showed Robertson walking away from the deputies when they opened fire. Robertson appears to look back at the deputies a moment before the first shot.
In the video released by the Sheriff’s Department, Robertson moves out of the frame a few seconds before the shooting.
Regardless of whether Robertson posed an immediate threat to the deputies, “public safety was critical” to their decision to fire on Robertson, Capt. Steve Katz said Sunday. A group of women and children were in a car at the gas station a few feet from Robertson when he was shot, Katz said.
More details of the minutes leading up to the shooting emerged Sunday.
Zoila Ramirez, 57, said she was gardening in the frontyard of her house in the 3200 block of Palm Avenue about 10:30 a.m. when she looked up to see a man across the street fire a gun twice into the air. The man, she said, kept walking before firing more rounds farther down the block, which is less than half a mile from where Robertson was killed.
Katz said the deputies were responding to 911 calls reporting a man firing a gun.
Robertson ignored multiple commands from the deputies to drop his weapon, Katz said.
After the initial volleys of gunfire, the deputies continued to shoot as Robertson fell to the ground. The bystander’s video shows him crawling on his elbows and stomach away from the deputies as gunshots crack the air.
Two still images put out by the Sheriff’s Department show Robertson still holding the gun as he crawled, Katz said.
The claim was bolstered by Roberto, the pizza parlor employee. “I saw him crawling,” he said. “He was still holding the gun and he still wouldn’t let it go.”
Michael Green, minister of the Greater Zion Church Family in Compton, said police could have stopped shooting after Robertson fell to the ground.
“It could’ve been defused,” said Green, a family friend. “He wasn’t trying to hurt somebody.... He didn’t deserve to die like that.”
A .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun was recovered from beneath Robertson’s body, and two unspent bullets were found next to his hand, Katz said. There were no bullets in the gun at the time of the shooting, he added.
In all, one deputy fired 17 times and the other unloaded 16 rounds.
Katz declined to comment on why the deputies fired so many times, how many times Robertson was shot or when in the shooting he was hit, saying the coroner’s office has yet to complete its autopsy. Toxicology tests were underway to determine whether Robertson had consumed alcohol or drugs.
Nisha Patel, a longtime friend of Robertson’s, struggled to resolve the sheriff’s account of the shooting with the man she had seen a week earlier, when he rubbed her pregnant belly.
“He wasn’t the type that did what they say he did,” Patel said.
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