The deputies pulled up to the South Los Angeles apartment complex, stepped out of the patrol car and quickly drew their weapons.
Within 20 seconds, the incident turned tragic. Deputies fired 34 rounds at a white Kia that backed rapidly out of a parking space.
The unarmed driver, Ryan Twyman, 24, was hit multiple times and would later die at a hospital. A passenger in the car was not struck.
A video detailing the fatal shooting that occurred on the evening of June 6 in Willowbrook was released Thursday by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, raising questions about whether deputies acted within department policy and whether the use of force was justified.
Department policy says deputies should not fire at a moving vehicle, or its occupants, unless a person in the automobile is “imminently threatening a department member or another person present with deadly force by means other than the moving vehicle.”
The policy states that the vehicle itself “shall not presumptively constitute a threat that justifies the use of deadly force.”
On Wednesday, attorneys for Twyman’s family filed a claim for damages against the county, stating that the men in the car were unarmed and that deputies used excessive force against them.
Sheriff’s Department officials said the vehicle was being used as weapon but added that the investigation is in its early stages.
“Our understanding of the incident may change as additional evidence is collected, analyzed and reviewed,” Cmdr. April Tardy said in the video.
Deputies received information that Twyman, who was under investigation for felony gun possession, drove a white Kia Forte and frequented the apartment complex where the shooting occurred, Tardy said. In April, gang investigators had found guns at his home, but Twyman was not present, Tardy said.
Deputies had been attempting to arrest Twyman for several weeks when they found his vehicle in the apartment parking lot, near East 132nd and South San Pedro streets, about 7:30 p.m.
In the video, two deputies approach the car. One of the deputies walks to a back passenger-side door, opening it and peering inside with his weapon drawn, the video shows.
At that moment, the driver, identified by Tardy as Twyman, starts the engine and moves the vehicle backward, catching the deputy in the doorjamb, the video shows. The deputy was struck with the door and pushed into the center of the parking lot.
“At that time, both deputies fired their service pistols at Mr. Twyman, to avoid seriously injuring the passenger deputy,” Tardy said.
The other deputy, who had been standing near the driver’s side door, then walks to his patrol car and retrieves a rifle. He positions himself behind a parked truck and continues shooting, the video shows.
The car is shown continuing to back up in a circular path until it hits a pole in the parking lot. The other man in the Kia, Daimeon Laffell, 22, and the deputies were uninjured, authorities said.
The department confirmed that deputies fired approximately 34 rounds and that neither Twyman nor his companion was armed.
Sheriff’s Department officials have not released the names of the deputies involved in the shooting. Both have been reassigned to administrative duties pending the outcome of the investigation.
Capt. Richard Shear of the department’s training bureau said that, per department policy, deputies are trained to move out of the way of a moving vehicle instead of shooting at it.
“The vehicle should not be considered a weapon, unless it’s so obvious and a guy is just driving through a park and mowing people down, for example,” he said.
Last year, another Los Angeles County deputy, Luke Liu, was charged with voluntary manslaughter after firing at an unarmed man in a moving vehicle in a gas station parking lot in 2016. Liu is the first law enforcement officer in Los Angeles County to stand trial in an on-duty shooting in nearly two decades.
Sid Heal, a retired L.A. County sheriff’s commander and use-of-force expert, said that the deputies in the Willowbrook case were treating the incident as a high-risk situation as they approached the car from both sides.
When the driver moved the car, Heal said, the perceived threat of deadly force escalated because it showed that the driver was not willing to cooperate.
Heal said deputies had to make a split-second decision to protect their lives.
“It’s a scary thing, when you’ve got a 3,800-pound car that’s going to back over you,” he said. He added that it’s noteworthy that the deputies were able to avoid injuring the passenger.
The department said Twyman was previously convicted of carrying a loaded gun and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was on probation.
At a news conference Thursday, Brian Dunn, an attorney for the family, said deputies disregarded training protocols when they opened fire at Twyman inside the vehicle.
“Your job is to apprehend,” he said. “If there’s punishment, it should come from a judge and jury.”
Dunn also questioned why the deputies shot at Twyman while the car was moving.
“Shooting at a moving motor vehicle is something that only happens in movies,” he said. “Police are trained to get out of the way. That is their training.”
The shooting has sparked condemnation from community activists who have called for an outside investigation. Civil rights activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson called on the department to release the names of the deputies.
“You can’t hide behind the cloak of invisibility,” he said. “You can’t shield officers — they’re public servants.”
Attorneys say that Laffell, the Kia’s passenger, was unreasonably detained for hours after the shooting and that the two men did not pose any “reasonable or credible threat of violence” toward the deputies.
As with all fatal shootings involving deputies, detectives with the department’s Homicide Bureau will continue to investigate. The case also will be reviewed by the district attorney’s office to determine whether charges should be filed. The Sheriff’s Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau will review the shooting to determine whether it adhered to policy.
Twyman’s father, Charles Twyman, said he watched the video Thursday morning and strongly believes that his son was murdered.
He said he’s running out of answers to give his son’s three children about what happened. He said his wife goes to bed and wakes up crying.
“To some people, this is news, but it’s destroying us,” he said.
Chiquita Twyman, Ryan Twyman’s older sister, said he had a large family and a loving support system.
“We just want to see justice for Ryan,” she said. “Because this isn’t the first one, and most definitely it won’t be the last one.”