Police Commission says LAPD officers were justified in shooting 18-year-old during ‘running gun battle’

Lisa Simpson, the mother of an 18-year-old fatally shot by LAPD officers last summer, criticizes Chief Charlie Beck during Tuesday's Police Commission meeting. The civilian panel later decided that the officers were justified in shooting Simpson's son, Richard Risher.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Three officers were justified in fatally shooting an 18-year-old during what police have described as a “running gun battle” in a Watts housing project in which one officer was shot and wounded, the Los Angeles Police Commission ruled Tuesday.

In a 4-0 vote, the civilian panel sided with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck in clearing the officers in their use of deadly force against Richard Risher. The chief and the board also agreed, however, that two of the officers violated some of the department’s tactics during the encounter.

Risher died on a sidewalk last summer in Nickerson Gardens, creating tension in a housing project that has a complicated history with the police. Although the LAPD said Risher shot an officer in the arm — and shared a photo of the handgun found lying on some leaves — word that police had killed a young black man still angered many in the neighborhood.

Lisa Simpson mother of Richard Risher, points at LAPD Chief Charlie Beck during the Police Commission meeting at LAPD headquarters.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The July 25 killing came after a series of deadly shootings around the country — both by and against police — that flared an already-tense debate over how officers use force, particularly against African Americans. Local activists turned Risher’s name into a hashtag they spread on social media. His mother, Lisa Simpson, repeatedly showed up at the commission’s weekly meetings, demanding justice for her son.


After the commission’s ruling, Simpson stood outside the LAPD’s downtown headquarters, again disputing that her son fired at police. She vowed to keep pushing for criminal charges against the officers who shot him.

”I will be the first black mother that gets a prosecution,” she said. “I’m going to fight with everything in me.”

A spokesman for the district attorney’s office said this week that prosecutors were still reviewing the case.

Gary Fullerton, an attorney representing the officers, said some of their tactics could have been better, but they were “trying to do the best job they can” as they tried to stop someone who was shooting at them.

The union representing rank-and-file officers also praised the commission’s decision on the use of deadly force.

“When a suspect shoots at a police officer, the officer is duty bound to respond in an appropriate manner to protect themselves and the public,” the union’s board of directors said in a statement.

The events leading up to the deadly encounter began about 11 p.m., when officers patrolling the housing project saw a group of people in a small picnic area between two buildings, according to a report Beck submitted to the Police Commission.

One officer told investigators that younger members of the Bounty Hunters Bloods gang hung out near the concrete picnic table, the report said. The day before the shooting, one officer said, they had been told in a roll call meeting to “monitor” the gang because it was feuding with a Crips gang affiliated with another housing project.

As the officers approached the group, the report said, a young man, later identified as Risher, took off running.

The officers chased after him, telling investigators they could see Risher holding a gun, the report said.

The report described a back-and-forth exchange of gunfire between the officers and Risher as they ran through the massive housing project. Investigators believe Risher fired at the officers at least twice, according to the report. One officer was struck in the arm as he tried to radio for backup.

The shootout came to an end after one officer heard a metallic object fall and saw Risher move to the ground, the report said.

Risher died at the scene. An autopsy report showed the 18-year-old had two gunshot wounds: one to the back, another to his hand.

In all, the officers fired 64 rounds, the report said. Beck said they were trying to defend themselves, but said that officials would discuss with them better control of gunfire.

The chief — and later, the commission — also criticized some of the tactics two of the officers used before the shooting began. Among the violations Beck cited in his report were the officers’ failure to effectively communicate and their decision to split up while chasing Risher.

The LAPD identified the officers who fired their guns as Francisco Zaragosa, Isaac Fernandez and Joseph Chavez, each of whom has returned to work. Their names were redacted from the copy of Beck’s report made public, and it was unclear which officers were faulted for their tactics.

Earlier this year, Risher’s mother filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and the officers, accusing them of using excessive force. She has repeatedly lambasted Beck and police commissioners in the 11 months since her son was killed.

Last fall, an LAPD detective sought a restraining order against Simpson that would have required her to give up any guns she had in her possession, citing some of her remarks at a commission meeting. Although the order was initially granted, a judge ultimately rejected it at a December hearing.

Simpson stood at the podium again Tuesday, crying as she railed against the chief and the commissioners.

”My son meant everything to me,” she said. “And you killed him.”



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6:50 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from Richard Risher’s mother, the attorney representing the officers, the police union and details from a report Chief Charlie Beck sent to the Police Commission.

2:30 p.m. This article was updated with the commission’s ruling that the fatal police shooting was justified.

This article was originally published at 7:30 a.m.