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5 Inglewood officers who killed couple in parked car say they were fired because they are white

5 Inglewood officers who killed couple in parked car say they were fired because they are white
The family of Kisha Michael gathers at the site where she was killed by Inglewood police. Five officers who were fired after the shooting are suing the city, alleging they were discriminated against because they are white. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Five former Inglewood police officers who were fired after fatally shooting a couple sitting in a car have filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming they were discriminated against because they are white.

During the incident, the officers — Sean Reidy, Richard Parcella, Michael Jaen, Andrew Cohen and Jason Cantrell — were following orders of the two more experienced Latino sergeants at the scene who were not fired, said their attorney Zorik Mooradian.

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“My question is why the commanding officers at the scene … are still serving the Police Department and five young, white officers who were in harm’s way and acting in conformity with the orders given to them were fired,” Mooradian said.

Mooradian provided a copy of the lawsuit, which offers a detailed description of the incident, to The Times. Los Angeles Superior Court online records show it was filed on Friday.

Neither the Inglewood city attorney’s office nor the Inglewood Police Department could be reached for comment. The February 2016 shooting led to calls for greater transparency in the agency.

The incident began when the officers responded to a report of people unconscious inside a Chevy, according to the lawsuit. Officers found the car stopped in the middle of a street with its engine running, and Marquintan Sandlin and Kisha Michael were unresponsive inside. Officers saw a loaded semiautomatic gun on the woman’s lap.

Over the next 40 or so minutes, the officers tried to wake up the couple. One of the first two officers at the scene knocked on the driver’s window. A sergeant showed up and instructed them to check the doors — all were locked.

Three more officers and another sergeant, a SWAT team member with 17 years on the force, arrived soon after, the lawsuit said.

Some of the officers tried yelling commands. The second sergeant, who became the incident commander, instructed one of the officers to turn on his lights and siren to see if the noise would stir the couple. Then the officer was told to bump the vehicle with his patrol car.

Eventually the couple woke up, the lawsuit said. Meanwhile, higher-ups in the department were contemplating whether to call the SWAT team to the scene.

They noticed Sandlin wake up first, after the incident commander used a public address system to tell the couple to put their hands in the air, the lawsuit said. Sandlin drove his Chevy into the patrol car in front of him, then reversed into the police vehicle behind him.

He then reached toward the woman’s lap, prompting Parcella to fire two rounds with his shotgun, the lawsuit said. Sandlin was struck and later died.

Moments later, the passenger door opened and the woman reached for her lap, the lawsuit said. All five officers opened fire. Michael was pronounced dead at the scene.

The officers were placed on leave and fired more than a year later. The two supervisors still work for the department, Mooradian said.

The lawsuit comes as the city authorized the shredding of more than 100 police shooting and other internal investigation records weeks before a new state law goes into effect that could allow the public to access them for the first time, a move that drew criticism from civil rights advocates.

California law says police departments must retain records of officer shootings and internal misconduct investigations for five years. The city of Inglewood, however, had kept records longer than that, including case files of police shootings dating to 1991. State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), the author of SB 1421, intended for her bill to allow public access to all qualifying records held by a department, no matter the date of the incident.

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