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Sheriff’s Department releases names of deputies who shot and killed unarmed man

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday released the names of two deputies involved in the fatal shooting of an unarmed suspect in 2009, after a year and a half of litigation over whether their identities are public information.

The California Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear a petition filed by the deputies’ union, which contended that releasing their names would jeopardize the officers’ safety. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge had previously ruled that the public interest in identifying officers using lethal force outweighs the safety concerns of the individual officers.

Document: Court of Appeal’s decision

Deputies Gonzalo Galvez and Michael Carpenter shot and killed Woodrow Player Jr. in July 2009 during a pursuit in Athens, according to sheriff’s officials. Both deputies were 10-year veterans of the department at the time.

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The Times first sued the Sheriff’s Department in October 2009 after officials denied a public records request seeking the names of deputies involved in three controversial shootings that occurred over three months earlier that year. The newspaper contended transparency was critical for the public to trust law enforcement actions and to ensure accountability.

In two of the shootings, of Avery Cody Jr. and Darrick Collins, the deputies involved were named in wrongful-death lawsuits filed by the families of the decedents.

In March 2010, Judge James C. Chalfant ruled in The Times’ favor, finding that “the public interest is paramount where an officer has fired a weapon.” The deputies’ union sought unsuccessfully to intervene in the case and later petitioned the 2nd District Court of Appeal and the state Supreme Court.

Richard Shinee, an attorney for the union, said he was disappointed by the high court’s decision not to block the release of the deputies’ identities and said, “in certain cases The Times…puts officers’ lives and their families at risk by seeking to publicize their names.”

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Times Editor Russ Stanton said the information is “of vital public interest,” noting that the Los Angeles Police Department and other law enforcement agencies routinely release identities of officers involved in shootings. The paper is currently in litigation against the city of Long Beach and its police union, which have argued in court that the names of officers involved in critical incidents are protected personnel information.

“We have long argued that state law requires the Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies to disclose the identities of officers who use deadly force,” Stanton said. “We hope this decision clears up the matter once and for all.”

Player was shot after a 911 call by his ex-girlfriend, who reported that he had threatened her with a gun. As Deputies Galvez and Carpenter were chasing him on foot, Player had his hands near his waistband, then turned around with what Galvez thought was a gun in his hand, according to court records. Galvez yelled, “He’s got a gun!” and fired two or three rounds. Carpenter, upon hearing the gunshots, thought Player was shooting at him and returned fire, according to records.

Player continued to run, and as he was scaling an iron fence, turned and faced the deputies again. Galvez fired an additional four or five rounds, and Carpenter fired three or four. Player’s cellphone was found on the ground near his body. No gun was recovered at the scene; a revolver was found in Player’s car.

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Multiple witnesses said they thought Player had a gun and was firing at the deputies, records state.

In a wrongful-death suit filed against the department, Player’s family accused the deputies of unlawfully firing at him even though he was not armed, and contended they denied him immediate medical assistance after the shooting. A trial is scheduled for September.

Galvez and Carpenter did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

victoria.kim@latimes.com


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