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LAPD officer justified in shooting naked man, commission rules

December 23, 2011 |  4:16 pm

A Los Angeles police officer was justified in fatally shooting a naked combative man, the Los Angeles Police Commission has ruled.

The unanimous decision by the civilian board, which judges whether serious uses of force by officers are reasonable, closes the Los Angeles Police Department’s internal investigation into the confrontation that drew media scrutiny and angry protests from the man’s family and friends. An attorney for the family dismissed the commission’s finding as one-sided, saying it does not address serious inconsistencies in how the officer and his partner said the shooting occurred.

A trial in the wrongful-death lawsuit the man's family filed in U.S. District Court is scheduled to begin next month.

Early Jan. 14, Aaron Goff, a rookie police officer who had been in the field about a year, and his partner, who had five years' experience, went to Playa Vista to investigate reports of a disturbance and possible theft.

They encountered 25-year-old Reginald Doucet, Jr., an athletic trainer and model, on the sidewalk  wearing no clothes. While it remains unclear why he had stripped off his clothes, Jamon Hicks, the family’s lawyer, said in earlier statements that Doucet had taken a taxi from Hollywood to his apartment and realized he did not have enough money to pay the fare. An argument ensued when Doucet said he would go up to his apartment to retrieve more cash and the taxi driver called police.

At first, Doucet cooperated with the officers and put his hands behind his head as if surrendering, according to a report that Chief Charlie Beck submitted to the commission. When Goff tried to place Doucet in handcuffs, however, he balled his hands into fists, broke the officer’s grip on his arm and ran, Beck said in the report.

The chief’s report was based largely on statements that Goff and his partner gave to investigators. The officers’ names are redacted in the copy of the report provided to The Times. Goff was identified as the officer who shot Doucet in a news release the department put out after the shooting.

The officers chased Doucet to the entryway of a building, where they tried to persuade him to give up, the report said. Again, he ran and managed to flee to the front door of his apartment building, according to the report. Wanting to catch Doucet before he opened the door, Goff told investigators, he tried to grab him from behind. As he did, Doucet turned and punched Goff in the face, the report said.

“It was a devastating punch. And I went down right away,” Goff told investigators. “I became disoriented…. I thought I was going to lose consciousness for a moment.”

Doucet, who stood 6 feet tall and weighed nearly 200 pounds, reportedly struck Goff several more times while the officer was on the ground. Then, with both hands, Doucet grabbed the handle of Goff’s gun and tried unsuccessfully to yank it out of its holster. Doucet was not drunk or high on PCP, a drug that often gives users unusual levels of strength, the autopsy determined.

Goff’s partner jumped into the fray. Doucet put him on the ground as well with a punch to the face and then alternated between pummeling the two officers, according to the report. Goff managed to get up on one knee and, as Doucet turned his attention back toward him, the officer drew his gun and fired two shots at close range, the report said. One of the bullets struck Doucet in the neck -– a wound that  ultimately proved fatal.

In explaining the decision to open fire, Goff told investigators, “He’s beating my head… I’m going to black out.… Next time he reaches for my gun, I’m not going to be able to fight back. He’s going to get my gun, and he’s going to kill us both.”

In an interview, attorney Hicks said Goff’s version of events doesn’t match the bullet wounds Doucet suffered. Coroner officials, he said, concluded during an autopsy that the bullet that hit Doucet’s neck traveled in a downward trajectory, which seemingly would not be possible if Goff had been on his knee while shooting.

Hicks did not dispute that Doucet fought with the officers, but denied the LAPD’s allegations that Doucet started the physical confrontation or tried to grab Goff’s gun. He also challenged the officers’ claims that they were on the verge of blacking out from the blows.

The shooting sparked an outcry from Doucet’s friends and family, who questioned how an unarmed man could have overwhelmed two police officers and who said the officers should have used their non-lethal Taser stun guns to subdue Doucet. Before reaching its decision, the Police Commission took the unusual step of requesting a more thorough explanation from Beck of several aspects of the shooting, including why the officers did not attempt to use their Tasers.

Beck told the board that using a Taser would have been excessive early in the incident since Doucet had not become violent. Once the fighting began, Doucet’s attempts to grab Goff’s weapon and the strength of his punches meant deadly force was needed, Beck said.

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-- Joel Rubin

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