A week after Los Angeles police shot and critically wounded an unarmed man whose hands were covered with a cloth, department officials on Friday identified the officer who pulled the trigger.
The LAPD identified Cairo Palacios as the officer who shot Walter William DeLeon, 48, along Los Feliz Boulevard. Police said DeLeon walked “aggressively” toward two officers and pointed his hands at them, leading them to believe he had a gun hidden under the gray cloth.
DeLeon remained in critical condition on Friday.
Palacios previously worked as a sworn public safety officer with the city’s General Services Department, which patrolled parks, libraries and other city-owned properties. That department merged with the LAPD in 2013, part of then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s effort to boost police staffing to the 10,000-officer mark.
Palacios began working with the General Services Department after he graduated from the Los Angeles Police Academy in 2006, the LAPD said. He was assigned to patrol Griffith Park as part of the LAPD’s Security Services Division, but was removed from the field after Friday’s shooting.
An attorney representing Palacios said his client thought DeLeon had a gun and was going to shoot the officers, saying there were no indications DeLeon was trying to get their help. Attorney Gary Fullerton acknowledged it can be difficult for the public to grapple with police shootings of unarmed people, but said officers have the right to protect their own lives.
“The officer, when he went up to handcuff the man, was shocked to find just the cloth there and nothing under the cloth,” Fullerton said. “It’s unfortunate, but you can’t expect officers to be clairvoyant and wait until they get shot at to actually know what this person is doing or thinking.”
Fullerton said he believed “100%" that Palacios followed LAPD policy in the shooting. But, he added, the officers “were obviously traumatized by what happened because nobody likes shooting what ends up being an unarmed man.”
DeLeon’s son told The Times he was shocked to learn his father was shot by police. William DeLeon, 18, said his father often walked with a towel to wipe away sweat.
Kevin Boyle, an attorney who is representing DeLeon’s children, said his firm would “leave no stone unturned” in its own investigation of the shooting.
“From everything I have seen, this is a wonderful family and I would be absolutely shocked to learn that he was approaching police in some sort of an aggressive way,” he said. “Maybe he was feeling ill. He may have been reporting a crime. It’s just unknown at this time.”
The investigation into the June 19 shooting is ongoing. LAPD officials have said Palacios and his partner were stuck in traffic along Los Feliz Boulevard when they saw DeLeon walking toward the road, with his arms extended and his hands covered by the cloth.
“DeLeon began pointing his arms toward the officers and continued walking toward them in an aggressive manner,” an LAPD statement said. “Based on DeLeon’s actions, the officers believed he was pointing a gun toward them.”
The officers got out of their car and ordered DeLeon to drop what they thought was a weapon hidden under the cloth, police said. He didn’t comply and kept walking toward them, the LAPD said, prompting Palacios to open fire.
No gun was found.
It remains unclear why DeLeon approached the officers. The LAPD has said no broken-down car was found nearby and he had no injury to his hand indicating he needed help.
Police have also said several witnesses have backed the officers’ account. Residents who live in the area and who were interviewed by The Times said they saw the aftermath of the shooting, when the officers rolled DeLeon over and handcuffed him.
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