Teen shot in back by LAPD: Don't just blame toy gun makers, activists says

Teen shot in back by LAPD: Don't just blame toy gun makers, activists says
Jamar Nicholson, 15, shows the bandage covering the wound in his back where he was shot by Los Angeles police as his mother, Geraldine Nicholson, looks on. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Standing in the alley where a Los Angeles police officer shot at a group of teenagers -- wounding one in the back -- six local civil rights activists on Friday called on the LAPD to review its policy and training procedures on replica weapons.

Tuesday's shooting, which wounded 15-year-old Jamar Nicholson, is among dozens of police incidents involving replica toy guns, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, said during a news conference held in the South L.A. alley.


Hutchinson said it was not enough to place the blame on replica gun makers -- with so many fake weapons out there, he said, it is incumbent on authorities to take responsibly as well.

"Are you going to go into every situation like this with guns blazing?" he told the Los Angeles Times after the news conference. "That's a recipe for disaster."

Jamar was shot while standing next to a person holding a realistic-looking toy weapon.

The bullet, which narrowly missed his spine, remains lodged in his back.

Initially, police said the shooting involved a gunman who was eventually taken into custody. But details later emerged showing a much different scenario.

A day after the incident, police said the boy was shot by an officer who believed his friend was holding an actual weapon. Officials emphasized their concerns about realistic-looking toy guns and their role in fatal police encounters around the country.

The delay in the release of information about the shooting of the teen was not intentional, Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Cmdr. Andrew Smith said.

"What we try to do is give as much accurate information as we can," he said. But in the early stages of an investigation, he cautioned, "people haven't been interviewed, weapons have not been touched, nothing has been examined."

Najee Ali, a local activist, said Friday the group would call on the LAPD to remove the officer involved in the shooting from the force and push for criminal prosecution if an investigation were to find misconduct.

"An apology doesn't go far enough," he told The Times.

Ali said he was unsure whether the officers truly believed the toy gun was real, or if they genuinely believed one of the teenagers was in danger.

"I don't know what was in their hearts," he said. "But it was bad tactics and at the end of the day a child was shot in the back."

During an interview Thursday with The Times, Jamar displayed a bandage across the upper right side of his back, covering his bullet wound. Jamar said he and several other boys were walking their normal route to school. He said he knew his friend was carrying an airsoft gun.

He said he heard someone yell "Freeze!" seconds before he was shot.


Jamar was rushed to a hospital while handcuffed to a gurney. He was treated and released. Nicholson said his cuffs weren't unlocked until his release. He said a detective approached him and told him there had been a mistake.

An LAPD captain apologized to Jamar's mother, but the teenager says he wants the officer who shot him to say he's sorry, although, "I don't want to see him again."

Police said the scenario unfolded while officers identified only as detectives with the Criminal Gang Homicide Bureau were on their way to another investigation Tuesday morning. Glancing down an alley near 10th and Florence avenues, they saw a group of young men. One was pointing a gun toward another.

The officers ordered the person to drop the gun and opened fire when he didn't comply, Smith said. The teen holding the replica weapon was not hit. Jamar, however, was struck.

"It's certainly an unfortunate situation," Smith said. "But because of people bringing replica weapons out like that, it certainly could have been a terrible tragedy."

Jamar and two of the other students involved in the incident attend nearby Alliance Renee and Meyer Luskin Academy High School, according to Chalio Medrano, the school's principal.

Medrano said the boy who was carrying the replica weapon, which he described as a BB gun, was not a student at Meyer Luskin. Medrano said the boys hardly ever missed class and described them as "typical teenagers."

Hutchinson said Friday that the shooting "makes it even more urgent for police officials to review their procedures and training on replica-gun recognition and for the community to understand the danger these guns pose."

Twitter: @parviniparlance and @lacrimes.