Man killed by off-duty cop in Lakewood was unarmed, officials say
A man who was shot and killed by an off-duty Santa Ana police officer Monday was unarmed, a Sheriff's Department official said Thursday.
Jason Richard Bitz, 23, of Long Beach died Monday about 6:30 a.m. near Rynerson Park in Lakewood.
According to sheriff's officials, the off-duty officer said he heard noises outside his home on Longworth Avenue, went outside and found two people trying to break into a vehicle parked across the street.
According to the account of the officer, whose name was not disclosed, when the officer confronted the men, they ran and he pursued them in his personal car. During the pursuit, the officer got out of his car and somehow Bitz got into the vehicle's driver's seat. The officer told sheriff's officials that Bitz reached into his waistband and the officer fired his gun four times.
A family friend says Bitz was helping to change a tire, not trying to steal a vehicle. Bitz had been given $12 to help change the tire on a van and was doing so at about 6 a.m. when the off-duty officer came out of his home, said Rita Gomez, a drug and alcohol counselor and friend of the Bitz family. He was given the keys to the vehicle by the owner's son, she said.
Bitz, she said, "was not a saint. He was on parole. That's probably why he ran."
But, she added, "this kid was not breaking into anything ... he wasn't stealing anything. And he shot him."
Sheriff's officials are looking into whether Bitz had permission to use the car and the coroner's office has confirmed that he was unarmed when he was shot, said sheriff's Lt. Eddie Hernandez. Authorities are still looking for the second suspect.
-- Paloma Esquivel
Photo: Investigators from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department are at the scene of a shooting in Lakewood, where an off-duty Santa Ana police officer shot and killed a man he said was trying to steal a car. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times