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LAPD officers who shot immigrant acted 'in immediate defense of life,' Beck says

September 7, 2010 | 11:03 am

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck on Tuesday offered a detailed account of a fatal officer-involved shooting near MacArthur Park that has sparked community protests and scattered unrest.

Homicide Report Emphasizing that the department's internal investigation into the shooting had only just begun, Beck said initial accounts from witnesses and the involved officers indicate the officer who fired acted "in immediate defense of life."

Three officers assigned to the Rampart Division's bicycle unit were responding to a different radio call Sunday afternoon when they were flagged down by a pedestrian, who told them a man was threatening passersby with a knife nearby, Beck told the Los Angeles Police Commission, which oversees the LAPD.

The officers rode to the corner of Sixth Street and Union Avenue, observing the man as he continued to threaten people with a knife, Beck said. They confronted him with their weapons drawn, ordering him repeatedly in English and Spanish to drop the knife, according to Beck. The man instead raised the knife over his head and advanced toward the officers, at which point one of the officers fired two rounds.

The man was pronounced dead at the scene. In response to a reporter's question about whether the officers could have used nonlethal weapons to subdue the man, Beck said bicycle officers frequently do not carry with them the selection of beanbag rifles and other weapons found in a traditional patrol car. It was not immediately known whether the officers were equipped with Taser stun guns.

As with all officer-involved shootings and other serious uses of force, investigators from the department's Force Investigation Division will spend the next several months investigating and re-creating the shooting, and compiling their findings into a report.

A review board of command-level officers then advise Beck on whether the officer's tactics, decision to brandish a weapon and decision to use the weapon were appropriate. Beck, in turn, makes his recommendations to the commission, which has the final word on adjudicating incidents. The entire process frequently takes about a year to complete.

Beck said the investigation would be as transparent "as humanly possible." It is difficult, however, for the public to track such inquiries since the investigation and deliberations are confidential.

The commission's inspector general is expected to release a public summary of the commission's findings, but neglected to publish scores of the reports in recent years and is now working to dig out from the large backlog. If officers are determined to have acted outside of department policy, they can face discipline ranging from more training to dismissal.

In reference to the protests and isolated cases of bottle and rock throwing that officers have endured since the shooting, Beck said the protesters represented "a very small" part of the Rampart neighborhood. He called on "everyone in Rampart to act appropriately. This is not a time to tear the community apart." 

Four people were arrested during the demonstrations and three officers were injured.

-- Joel Rubin at LAPD headquarters

Photo: A crowd gathers at a makeshift memorial at West Sixth Street and South Union Avenue, where a 37-year-old Guatemalan day laborer was shot and killed by LAPD officers Sunday. Credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times