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LAPD shooting of autistic man demands policy review, ACLU says

The ACLU is demanding the Los Angeles Police Department examine its policies after officers shot and killed an autistic man in Koreatown early Saturday morning.

Steven Eugene Washington, 27, reached into his waistband for what officers believed was a weapon, authorities said. Although no weapon was found, officers said they feared for their lives because Washington did not respond to their commands and appeared to be reaching for his waistband.

Hours after the shooting, Washington's relatives criticized police and said the dead man had suffered from learning disabilities and was generally afraid of strangers. They insisted that he was not violent and that he probably was walking home after visiting a friend.

Ramona Ripston, the ACLU executive director for Southern California, said in a statement that the LAPD needs to provide more information to justify the shooting.

"We urge the LAPD to go beyond a one-time investigation examining the conduct of the officers, and take a broader look at changes in department policy and training that could help prevent such a tragedy from recurring," she said.

Police identified the gang enforcement officers involved as Allan Corrales and George Diego, who have served nearly seven and eight years with the department, respectively. Both have been reassigned until the probe is completed, police said.

Corrales and Diego were driving south on Vermont Avenue near James M. Wood Boulevard shortly after midnight when they heard a loud sound, according to police. They turned the marked police car around and saw Washington walking north on Vermont while looking around and touching something in his waistband area.

The officers spoke to Washington, but he approached them and seemed to remove something from his waistband, police said.

Corrales and Diego believed "he was arming himself" and fired, Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger said at weekend news conference.

"The officers made decisions in a fraction of a second," he added.

It appears the officers fired once each, Paysinger said. It's unclear which bullet struck Washington.

-- Shelby Grad

Learn about more than 100 fatal officer-involved shootings in Los Angeles County since January 2007 on The Times' interactive Homicide Report.


Photo: Members of Washington family. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

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Comments () | Archives (65)

Same story over and over again....If the man was afraid of strangers he should have been kept home. The Police have the most dangerous and difficult job in the World.

Maybe his pants were falling down as is the style these days (wearing one's pants very low)?

"Feared for their Lives" will always be the excuse used by Law enforcement to shoot and KILL innocent people! There is absolutely NO reason why this poor African American should be dead right now.
If they truly feared for their lives, why not shoot and wound the victim as opposed to take away his life?? And before any of you "cop lovers" pass judgement, I'm white, not African American. But what I do see is that this has been an ongoing problem that never seems to end.

I'm sorry, but the cops jumped the gun. They had no reason to believe the "Loud Sound" was a gunshot. Every cop knows the sound of gunshots. They would have claimed it was gunshots if it was. They failed to verify that the suspect had a weapon before opening fire. The officers likely had their weapons drawn and pointed at the suspect. If you can't fire a shot from a fully drawn and armed weapon before a suspect draws from his waistband, you shouldn't be on the streets. The officers clearly overreacted and killed this man. They should be held responsible for their actions.

If the ACLU tells you to run down the street without any clothes, do you do it? Grow a spine.

If this man was autistic and could not understand other people, why was he walking around alone, after midnight? Why wasn't one of his family members walking with him? It seems like the police acted reasonably because they thought they were about to get shot at. Maybe the family should take some more responsibility themselves, rather than blaming the police for what happened.

I hope that organizations like Autism Speaks come out in defense of this family. There is no way this should have occurred. I seriously doubt LAPD has had much training in dealing with mentally disabled citizens. Too many times we see their reaction is shoot/kill first, ask questions later. This autistic man was behind from day 1 and this is his fate? Not fair at all!

These guys shouldn't be cops anymore. If they're that afraid of a unarmed man, they should find another line of work. I wouldn't put them in jail, but they've shown they can't be trusted to walk around the streets with guns on their hips; they'll shoot anyone they're afraid of.

Hey you come here. OK.
Shoot him he put his hands in his pocket.

Dont call someone and then shoot them when they come.

Officers are way to jumpy now days.

My heart goes out to the victim and family. What I don't understand is, if the cops really felt threatened, then why didn't they shoot him in the leg? or arm? Or anywhere else besides the head because that is what I heard on the news last night and it was failed to mention in this article above. Really? You have to shoot someone in the head because they are not responding to your commands?

The fact that police are taught to 'shoot on command' when they feel 'threatened' shows that they need to re-evaluate how they deal with individuals so this will never happen again.

I hope the family sues the officers involved and the department. Noone that is autistic or mentally challenged should have to die with a bullet to the head by the Boys in the Blue.

I have a autistic sister, and this story breaks my heart for the family.

Hold these guys accountable; of course they are going to just say 'we felt threatened' but that should not be an excuse to shoot someone in the head.

It so easy for people to blame the cops. The fact is they did react properly. The man refused to comply and went for his waist band. Are they supposed to wait till he shoots first! If the family is upset, they should be upset at themselves for leaving this man unsupervised.

Individuals with autism have the right to be in public just as any other citizen. No one would dissagree the police have a dangerous job. But shooting this man in the head, and he unarmed? Repulsive behavior by the LAPD. There has to be a better way to respond by the police in this type situation.

Why did they shoot to kill? I thought officers are trained to shoot in the leg or the arm.. if the guy had a gun out thats a different story.. also, why not tazer the person?
and just because the guy is austistic does NOT mean he should be locked up at home.. what are you guys thinking? So.. just because someones brain is wired differently they cant try to act like normal human beings? Pathetic

as the parent of a young adult with autism, i feel the need to throw my two cents into the mix. First, my heart goes out to the family of Steven Eugene Washington. this is tragic. But as a parent of a child with autism, I know better than to let my son walk the streets at night. My son is fairly high-functioning, but I certainly would not let him go out like that. But that's just me and i do realize that everyone has different parenting techniques.

Cops are taught to kill, not wound. Period. Just remember 100 lb, 5'1" Margaret Mitchell who was shot to death on La Brea & Third in 1999, four feet from officers while holding a screwdriver. She was stopped and questioned about a stolen grocery cart. A GROCERY CART. Chief Bernard Parks defended those officers then and these officers will be defended now.

The Los Angeles Police Commission's inspector general has concluded that police officers who shot and killed homeless woman Margaret Mitchell violated the LAPD's rules on shootings, a determination that contradicts Police Chief Bernard C. Parks' findings and threatens to ratchet up a building conflict between the chief and his civilian bosses.
(L.A. Times, Feb. 12, 2000)

District Attorney Steve Cooley yesterday opted against filing criminal charges against a Los Angeles police officer for fatally shooting a mentally ill homeless woman, concluding that conflicting witness accounts leave little chance of getting a conviction. (Aug. 8, 2001)

Trigger Happy LAPD. Shoot first, ask later.

Same story over and over again....If the man was afraid of strangers he should have been kept home. The Police have the most dangerous and difficult job in the World.

Posted by: City Dave | March 23, 2010 at 09:45 AM


Nobody forced these two cops to become cops. They are public servants, as such should be ready to take a bullet in defense of the public. If they didn't understand the 'hazard' of their profession then they shouldn't have been cops in the first place.

Their lack of education isn't a defense to their barbaric action.


The police have no way of knowing he is autistic, that has nothing to with this story other to make a play on people emotions, if the police are giving commands to someone and they are not responding(cooperating) and the person reaches into there pockets or waist or behind there back, the police have no way to know what they are trying to do, go do a ride along with the police, see how it is when your out there and see how often these police officers are in pretty intense situations. then see how you feel about the way people talk about them. I have done several ride alongs and see things in a completely different way now. Good job to all you cops you read this and keep up the great work and sorry you guys get dumped on for everything.

To the ACLU haters, et al ... Feeling threatened is a part of the police job... maybe they should also grow a spine. .. and what ever happened to tasers or other non-lethal responses? And if you are going to call someone over, in a scenario where you so obviously feel threatened because you heard a noise, etc... don't you have a way of preparing a defensive strategy or stance - especially in pairs, that allows you to better control a situation with a single individual? And what's with the kill shot? Why not just set up a police sniper tower on every block and pick off those who look scary?

They shoot because they know they can always get away with it after the "internal investigation" ,kind of like priests. Besides they get a vacation out of it too.

I feel bad for the guy and his family, but when exactly are we going to stop playing the racist cards??? "there is no reason WHY this poor African American...." First of all, do we know he is poor? Nope, so thats all an assumption. We do know of his race and that he has learning disabilities. If this guy did have much difficulty comprehending things and knowing right from wrong, he had NO reason to be out alone on the streets AT NIGHT...His family is part responsible for their lack of responsibility. Police officers have the most dangerous job; take a step into their world for a change. Police officers dont have but seconds to decide things..They need to protect themselves too. If they make a mistake and assume there is no weapon or its a fake gun and they are wrong, 9/10 times their life is over. These police officers were not cruising around town, firing at people, they signed an oath that they take very seriously and they felt threatened, so they protected themselves. If you are not able to do what is required of you by law, then stay home!

A head shot, for an Autistic person, who by definition couldnt communicate effectively and who was responding to figures of authority as best he could. I wonder was he maybe reaching for his PECS or picture cards which is how many people with autism communicate. Its just sad, gunned down... for walking down the street.

I'm a white guy. Cops had their guns drawn and should have waited to see a weapon. Bad job by the LAPD. Somebody is gone forever.

Shooting to kill an individual in any situation should always be the extremely very last resort by a cop.

Unfortunately this isn't the case, even though they could have tased him, shoot him in the leg, arm, tackled him (God only knows there were about 20 cops or more at the scene and I'm sure they could've handled ONE individual). The Police will always claim they felt threatend as a means of killing someone. If the Police feel there job is stressful and or dangerous, go find another profession!
As for all you guys out there like Xavier siding for the cops, let's be realistic. The Police (once again) over-reacted and killed an innocent man.

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