Man killed in shooting by deputies was shot in the back, report says
This post has been corrected. See note below.
A Culver City man who was fatally shot by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies after a police pursuit in November was struck by bullets five times in the back and twice more in the right hip and right forearm, also from behind, according to an autopsy report obtained by The Times.
Jose de la Trinidad, a 36-year-old father of two, was shot Nov. 10 by deputies who believed he was reaching for a weapon following a police pursuit. But family members and a witness to the shooting said that De la Trinidad, who was unarmed, was complying with deputies and had his hands above his head when he was shot.
The shooting is being investigated by multiple law enforcement agencies.
De la Trinidad was shot five times in the upper and lower back, according to the Los Angeles County coroner's report dated Nov. 13. The report describes four of those wounds as fatal. He was also shot in the right forearm and right hip, with both shots entering from behind, the report found.
“Here's a man who complied, did what he was supposed to, and was gunned down by trigger-happy deputies,” said Arnoldo Casillas, the family’s attorney, who provided a copy of the autopsy report to The Times. He said he plans to file a lawsuit against the sheriff’s department.
[Updated: 1:40 p.m., Jan. 27: A sheriff's official declined to discuss specifics of the autopsy report because of the ongoing investigation but stressed that the findings in the report would be included in the department's determination of what happened that night.
"The sheriff and our department extend its condolences to the De la Trinidad" family, said Steve Whitmore, a sheriff's spokesman.
"Deadly force is always a last resort," he said. "The deputies involved were convinced that the public was in danger when they drew their weapons."
The two deputies were assigned desk duties immediately after the shooting but returned to patrol five days later, Whitmore said. This is standard practice in dealing with deputies involved in shootings, he said.
Although investigations like this one typically take months, Whitmore said, the department has given special urgency to this case and hopes to complete its probe in a timely manner.
"We want to have answers about what happened that night soon rather than later," he said. "Even then, we know it doesn't change the grief the family is experiencing."]
On Saturday, relatives of De la Trinidad and about 100 other people marched through the streets of Compton, shouting “No justice, no peace. No killer police.” Rosie de la Trinidad, Jose’s widow, joined the march with the couple’s two young daughters.
“He was doing everything he was supposed to,” she said of her husband, fighting back tears. “All we're asking for is justice.”
De la Trinidad was shot just minutes after leaving his niece’s quinceañera with his brother, Francisco, 39. He was riding in the passenger seat of his brother's car when deputies attempted to pull them over for speeding about 10:20 p.m., authorities said. After a brief car chase, De la Trinidad exited the car in the 1900 block of East 122nd Street in Compton and was shot by deputies.
The sheriff’s department maintains that the deputies opened fire only after De la Trinidad appeared to reach for his waist, where he could have been concealing a weapon.
But a woman who witnessed the officer-involved shooting told investigators that De la Trinidad had complied with deputies’ orders to stop running and put his hands on his head to surrender when two deputies shot and killed him. The witness said she watched the shooting from her bedroom window across the street.
“I know what I saw,” said the witness, Estefani, who asked that her last name not be used, saying she did not want to be harassed by the news media. “His hands were on his head when they started shooting.”According to the deputies' account, De la Trinidad jumped out of the passenger seat.
His brother, Francisco, took off again in the car. One of the four deputies on the scene gave chase in his cruiser, leaving Jose de la Trinidad on the sidewalk and three deputies standing in the street with their weapons drawn.
The deputies said Jose de la Trinidad then appeared to reach for his waistband, prompting two of them to fire multiple shots into the unarmed man. He died at the scene.Unknown to the deputies at the time, Estefani sat at her bedroom window, looking out at the shooting. She said she did not count the number of shots fired by the deputies.
“As soon as I saw [De la Trinidad] hit the floor, I couldn't look up any longer,” Estefani said at the time. “Then I ran downstairs and started to cry.”
She said she was still crying half an hour later when two sheriff’s deputies canvassing the area for witnesses came to her door.
The deputies, she said, repeatedly asked her which direction De la Trinidad was facing, which she perceived as an attempt to get her to change her story.
“I told them, 'You're just trying to confuse me,' and then they stopped,” she said at the time.
Sheriff’s Department officials initially denied speaking to Estefani or any other potential witnesses that night.
But officials now acknowledge that deputies interviewed her on the night of the shooting, attributing previous denials to a lack of communication between deputies and lieutenants involved in the investigation. Estefani was later interviewed a second time.
As with all deputy-involved shootings, De la Trinidad’s killing will be subject to investigation by the district attorney, the sheriff’s homicide and internal affairs bureaus and the Sheriff’s Executive Force Review Committee.
[For the record: This story initially said that the two deputies involved in the shooting were place on administrative leave immediately following the shooting. They were taken off patrol and returned to duty five days later.]
Photo: Rosie de la Trinidad, with her daughters Ariana, 3, left, and Jocelynn, 6, right, holds a photo of her wedding with Jose de la Trinidad. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times