L.A. County has reviewed 687 police killings since 2004. Four officers have been prosecuted.

When someone is killed by law enforcement in Los Angeles County, many people respond. Detectives, internal affairs investigators, coroner officials and others go to work piecing together what happened. Among them is someone less expected: A prosecutor from the district attorney’s office.

The county prosecutor reviews each incident to determine whether charges are warranted. Reaching a decision can take years. If a killing is deemed criminal, the officer is prosecuted. If the incident is deemed lawful, the office issues a memo justifying the use of force.

The Times has acquired 687 of these reviews dating to 2004 and has published them here, the most comprehensive database of investigations of Los Angeles County police killings ever made public. The latest decisions will be added as they are released.

The records show it is rare for a district attorney to bring charges against a law enforcement officer. In more than 99% of decisions, the officer’s actions were deemed lawful, according to a Times analysis. The district attorney’s office was unable to provide a list of officers who have been charged. The Times could identify only four officers prosecuted since 2004.

Following nationwide protests sparked by police killings, L.A. County’s latest district attorney, George Gascón, has promised to more rigorously investigate such cases. On his first day in office, Gascón announced the creation of a new review board to reexamine police killings dating to 2012 for possible prosecution. Gascón has also promised to reconsider four police shooting cases that his predecessor, Jackie Lacey, chose not to prosecute.

District AttorneyNo action takenOfficers prosecuted
Off dutyOn duty
Steve Cooley
Steve Cooley
2004 - 2012*
Jackie Lacey
Jackie Lacey
2012 - 2020
George Gascón
George Gascón
2020 - present
*Cooley was elected in 2000. D.A. reviews from his first three years in office are not publicly available.
Source: Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, Times analysis

Since 2004, three officers have been convicted in killings that occurred while off duty.

In 2012, a California Highway Patrol officer was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison in the shooting death of her husband during an altercation. In 2017, a former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy pleaded no contest to fatally shooting a man in Sylmar five years earlier. In 2020, a former Los Angeles police officer was sentenced for the fatal shooting of a man outside a Pomona bar.

It is far more rare for an officer to be prosecuted for an incident that happens while on duty.

In 2018, Luke Liu was charged with voluntary manslaughter in the on-duty shooting death of Francisco Garcia, 26, at a Norwalk gas station nearly three years earlier. The case is pending.

Liu is the first law enforcement official to face prosecution for an on-duty shooting since 2000, when LAPD Officer Ronald Orosco was charged with shooting an unarmed motorist. Orosco was eventually sentenced to five years in prison for the crime.

How the cases are reviewed

Within the prosecutor’s office, the Justice System Integrity Division reviews any incident in which a peace officer, on or off duty, shoots and injures a person, or when people die while in police custody. Their motto is “No one is above the law, especially those who are sworn to uphold it.”

The division looks at the evidence collected by law enforcement to determine whether the officer acted lawfully in the situation, and sometimes conducts its own inquiry. If charges aren’t filed, the office issues a memo summarizing the evidence and the investigation. The report is written to answer whether there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer or deputy committed a crime.

There are 149 cases that remain unresolved. Either the incident is still under review or the district attorney’s office has yet to disclose the records to The Times. In some older cases, decisions are unknown because prosecutors say the records are missing.

Prosecution No action taken Unresolved Missing

Source: Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, Times analysis

The reviews consist of sections that detail the narrative of the incident, witness statements and a legal analysis, which includes weighing the facts of the case against laws governing use of force and justifiable homicide. There are special provisions in the law governing when police are allowed to use fatal force in the line of duty.

In almost all cases the D.A.’s office has ruled that the use of force was lawful.

How long cases take

As fatal incidents involving law enforcement attract increased scrutiny, the reviews have taken longer to complete and are more detailed. The newer reviews tend to have more supplemental information such as crime scene diagrams, photos of weapons and information from 911 calls.

Before 2016, the median review was five pages long and took about one year to complete from the date of incident. Those figures have doubled in recent years. A typical review now takes nearly two years to finish, and is roughly 11 pages long.

Median days to reach decision
Median length of decision memo
Source: Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, Times analysis

Learn more about police killings

The Times is continually updating its a database of every Los Angeles County police killing since 2000. Visit our police killings tracker to learn the facts about the issue.

How weapons are involved

The presence of a weapon is frequently used to justify a killing by police. The reviews routinely portray the person who was killed as armed and dangerous, though family members and witnesses sometimes contest the official accounts.

It’s not always clear how a weapon was involved in an incident because of redactions, conflicting accounts or a lack of information in the review.

In one out of six cases, however, there was no evidence presented that the person killed wielded a weapon at the time of the incident. In 11 cases, The Times could not determine whether prosecutors had knowledge that a weapon was directly involved.

Source: Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, Times analysis

What agencies are involved

The two biggest law enforcement agencies in the county, the LAPD and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, account for most of the killings. Adjusting for size, some smaller police departments have killed people at a greater rate. Here are the totals by agency in the 687 cases that have been reviewed by the district attorney.

Search the database

The Times is publishing its complete list of decisions below. It will update with the latest records as they are released.

Support the Homicide Report

Times reporter Nicole Santa Cruz tracks the death of every person killed by another in Los Angeles County for the Homicide Report, which is free to all readers.

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