Police Commission decides officer was justified in fatally shooting 18-year-old in South L.A.

A woman confronts a line of Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies blocking the street after a vigil last year for Carnell Snell Jr., 18, who was fatally shot by LAPD officers.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Police Commission decided Tuesday that an officer was justified in shooting Carnell Snell Jr. last fall in South L.A., a killing that prompted protests and the rare public release of video evidence by the LAPD.

Siding with Chief Charlie Beck, the panel cleared the officer who fatally shot Snell, saying his decision to pull the trigger fell within the LAPD’s policy for using deadly force. But the panel — again agreeing with the chief — faulted some of the tactics used by three officers involved in the Oct 1, 2016 encounter.

The unanimous ruling came after a meeting peppered with interruptions by activists who chanted the 18-year-old’s name and criticized the police — disruptions that are not unusual for the civilian commission’s weekly meetings but ultimately led to the arrests of three people Tuesday.

After the findings were announced, Snell’s sister cursed at the five police commissioners.

“That wasn’t right at all,” she told reporters later, declining to give her name. “I miss and love my brother, and hopefully he’s at peace.”


The death of the young black man struck a chord in South L.A. during a year when police shootings of African American men deepened mistrust in a neighborhood where some residents were already wary of the LAPD. After Snell was shot, angry activists and residents flocked to the scene, decrying the police and dismissing the LAPD’s account that Snell was carrying a gun.

The outcry led Beck to share a video captured shortly before the shooting as Snell ran from officers. The recording showed the 18-year-old holding a gun. At the time, Beck said police fired at Snell after he turned toward them holding the weapon, thinking he posed an “imminent threat.”

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing rank-and-file LAPD officers, welcomed the commission’s review of the shooting.

“When an armed suspect points a gun at a police officer, that officer must act to protect themselves and members of the public,” the League’s statement said. “We commend the Police Commission for relying upon the evidence in front of them to make the correct ruling.”

Activists continued to challenge the police narrative Tuesday, however, saying that just because Snell was seen carrying the gun didn’t mean he pointed it at police.

A report Beck submitted to the Police Commission outlining his thoughts on the shooting, a redacted copy of which was made public Tuesday, offered a few new details.

Three Metro officers in a police car near 108th Street and Western Avenue when they spotted a Nissan Altima with paper plates, the report said. Snell, a passenger in the Nissan, made eye contact with one of the officers, then ducked, the report said, causing police to think he was trying to hide a gun or arm himself.

The officers turned on lights and siren to try to stop the car, the report said. The vehicle initially slowed down, then sped away.

As the car approached an alley on 106th Street, the report said, Snell bailed out while grabbing his waistband.

The officers chased after him. At least one saw Snell holding a gun, the report said. Police ordered him to stop and drop the weapon, the report said, but he kept running.

The video released by the LAPD shows Snell running behind a line of parked cars with the gun, then tucking it into the waist of his pants before taking off.

At one point, police said, Snell ran into a driveway and toward a fence.

”He then removed his handgun from his waistband and then started to turn towards me,” the officer told investigators. “Just out of fear I — I thought he was going to try to shoot at me or try to kill me.”

The officer fired three rounds at Snell, the report said. After Snell hopped the fence, the report said, he turned toward the officer again and “began to raise the handgun.”

The officer fired three more shots. Snell died at the scene.

The name of the officer who shot Snell was redacted from Beck’s report, but the LAPD previously identified him as Leovardo Guillen. The 10-year LAPD veteran has since returned to work in the field.

Beck took issue with some of the tactics the officers used before the shooting, including their decision to split up while chasing Snell and to handcuff him without proper cover after he had been shot. The names of the other officers have not been released.

Tension at Tuesday’s meeting was evident from the start. Matt Johnson, the commission’s president, opened with a statement condemning this weekend’s deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Activists — about 30 were in the room — repeatedly interrupted him, accusing police here of racism. As Johnson tried to resume the meeting, they kept interjecting.

Commissioners ultimately paused the meeting twice, and an LAPD lieutenant declared two unlawful assemblies to clear the room.

Some, however, refused to leave. Four people were removed from the room — including Melina Abdullah, a professor and prominent Black Lives Matter organizer, who was taken away in handcuffs.

Abdullah and two other people the LAPD later identified as Courtney King, 28, and Danielle Robicheau, 30, were arrested on suspicion of resisting police, an LAPD spokesman said.

Once the meeting resumed, Snell’s family delivered emotional testimony about the 18-year-old. He struggled mentally and had some run-ins with the law, they said, but adored his family and wanted to turn his life around.

“Carnell was my heart,” said Carlena Hall, a great-aunt who raised Snell.

She recalled the last time she spoke to Snell, when he stopped by her house. When she saw him later that day, she said, he was running from the police.

“If I could have stopped him, I would have,” she said.

Activists repeatedly chanted Snell’s name during the meeting, as they’ve chanted the names of others shot by Los Angeles police. “Say his name!” they shouted.

Snell’s sister screamed her brother’s name, which echoed through the room.

“Justice for my brother!” she said. “His life mattered!”



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7:25 p.m.: This article was updated with details from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s report, a statement from the police union and the names of the three people arrested at the meeting.

3:25 p.m.: This article was updated with the Police Commission’s decision and comments from Carnell Snell Jr.’s sister.

1:40 p.m.: This article was updated with events from Tuesday’s Police Commission meeting.

This article was originally published at 8:25 a.m.