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Deputy shooting at West Hollywood liquor store under investigation

October 4, 2010 | 11:34 am

Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators are looking into how a West Hollywood liquor store manager who called 911 to report a robbery was mistaken for a suspect and shot at by a deputy.

Authorities were called to the store near Crescent Heights and Santa Monica boulevards early Sunday. Suspect descriptions at the time were limited: a black man with a handgun, and a black woman.

Soon after, two deputies pulled in and parked around the corner from the store and the store’s manager ran around the corner to meet them, said Capt. Mike Parker. At least one of the deputies mistook the manager, who is also black, for the suspect, Parker said.

The manager began pointing his index finger behind the deputies in the direction the suspects fled, but the deputy mistakenly believed the man was pointing a gun at them, Parker said.

When the man ignored the deputy’s commands and continued gesturing, the deputy shot eight rounds in his direction, Parker said.

All of the gunshots missed, and the manager was not injured. No gun was found at the scene, authorities said.

The manager may have been holding keys, said Michael Gennaco, who heads up the Office of Independent Review, a Sheriff's Department watchdog. Gennaco, who arrived at the scene soon after the shooting, said the manager appeared unharmed.

“He’s pointing, saying ‘Hey they’re getting away’ and the deputies are thinking he’s going to shoot,” Gennaco said. “Eight rounds later there are still a lot of questions.”

The deputy who shot at the manager was a trainee and was accompanied by his training officer, Gennaco said. He had responded to the scene of another robbery at the same liquor store just three weeks earlier, Parker said.

Gennaco called the physical description of the male suspect as “not much of a description.”

“It’s a difficult assessment, but the deputies have to make the correct assessment whether someone is aggressing ... or is just trying to point out the departing suspects,” he said.

Gennaco said the deputy’s relatively short experience in the field would be considered. The department has launched multiple investigations into the shooting, including separate inquires by internal affairs and department detectives.

Parker said the investigations would have to be completed before it could be determined if protocol was broken, but he defended the deputy’s actions.

“Here he is rolling into an armed robbery at a place that was robbed three weeks ago. Already tensions are high,” Parker said.

The street was dark, the limited physical description matched and the man was pointing with a gesture similar to children “playing cops and robbers” and miming holding a gun, Parker said.

“We don’t want to be critical of somebody when they’ve gone through this traumatic experience, but it’s really best if and when you call 911 and ... you’re going to come outside that you keep your hands in plain sight,” Parker said. “We don’t know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. That’s what we’re coming to find out."

The confusion was compounded by an apparent language barrier, Parker said. The shop manager is an African immigrant with a thick accent, he said.

Neither of the robbers has been arrested, and both were last seen fleeing south on Havenhurst Drive. Windows at a store across the street from the robbery site were said to be shattered by the gunfire.

Parker said the deputy would likely not be back on patrol immediately, as is customary after shootings.

Employees at the liquor store could not be reached Monday morning. Parker said the manager appeared shaken up after the shooting.

“But I think he was more shaken up by the robbery,” Parker said. “He wished [the shooting] didn’t happen, but I think he understood why it did happen.”

-- Robert Faturechi