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Downey officer justified in shooting fleeing man, D.A. says

A Downey police officer who shot and killed a man using a submachine gun in a case of mistaken identity acted lawfully and won’t face criminal charges, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

Officer Steven Gilley fatally shot Michael Nida, 31, of South Gate in the back on Oct. 22, 2011, after Nida was mistaken for a suspect wanted in an armed robbery at a Bank of America ATM near Imperial Highway and Paramount Boulevard.

The shooting has led to regular protests at Downey City Council meetings and a lawsuit by Nida’s family that alleges he was wrongfully killed and his civil rights were violated.

Prosecutor Stephanie Sparagna, however, wrote that Nida repeatedly resisted arrest and ran from police three times. He also ignored warnings from police, including one from the officer that he would “blow his head off” if Nida did not show his hands. Sparagna said that Nida was shot from 20 feet and hit in the back and leg but that police can use deadly force to prevent the escape of a fleeing felon when the suspect may pose a deadly or serious threat to officers or others.

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Sparagna found that Gilley reasonably feared that Nida was armed and dangerous, even though he eventually was determined not to be the robbery suspect and was unarmed. “Given the rapidly evolving, dangerous situation that confronted Officer Gilley, we conclude that Officer Steven Gilley was justified in using deadly force to prevent Nida’s escape,” she wrote.

Police detained Nida, a Puerto Rican and white man, about 7:41 p.m. after seeing him running across a street as they searched for the robbery suspects described as black males with dark clothing.

Nida, 31, a father of four, was getting gasoline with his wife on his way to dinner. He had run across Imperial Highway to get cigarettes and was detained as he came out of the tobacco shop. Initially he cooperated but then “suddenly and inexplicably” he ran from officers, prosecutors said. Officers reported that he hopped fences and eluded them.

Within 10 minutes, Gilley and another officer detained Nida in an alley behind a Walgreens. Gilley ordered Nida to show his hands and when he did not, Gilley said he feared the suspect had a weapon, the prosecutor wrote

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Seconds later, Nida “actively resisted arrest when he jumped up from a prone position on the ground, forcing Gilley to his knees” and ran again from the officers. The officers, according to the prosecutor, did not have a chance to search Nida before he ran. “Believing Nida was armed and dangerous, Gilley fired one three-round burst from his MP5, killing Nida,” Sparagna wrote. The MP5 is a submachine gun.

Terri Teramura, Nida’s sister, condemned the district attorney’s findings. “This officer shoots someone in the back, running away from him. How clear-cut can a shooting be?” she said. “This gives officers free rein to do what they want. This D.A. never prosecutes officers; we knew that, but it hurts. We still have our civil lawsuit against the city. But our fear is Officer Gilley will kill someone else.”

The family attorney, Brian Claypool, added, “If we prevail in the civil lawsuit, we will not hesitate to ask the U.S. attorney’s office to open an investigation.”

richard.winton@latimes.com

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