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Schizophrenic man's death after El Monte police struggle is probed

June 21, 2012 | 10:42 pm

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide detectives are investigating allegations that El Monte police officers beat a schizophrenic man to death inside his home.

In an incident the family attorney compared to the Kelly Thomas police beating death in Orange County, 37-year-old Khoa Anh Le died early June 15 after police used baton strikes, a Taser and a neck restraint to subdue him.

Sheriff’s investigators said in a statement that the confrontation occurred late June 14 after officers responded to a "family disturbance" call in the 2700 block of Caminar Avenue. Le and his father had been in a "pushing argument," according to Hoang Huy Tu, attorney for the Le family, and the police were called.

El Monte Police Department officials were not immediately available for comment.

When authorities arrived, Tu said Le was on his bed using his laptop computer inside his makeshift bedroom in the family’s garage. Sheriff’s investigators said that Le “immediately began resisting and assaulting the officers.”

One officer stuck Le with a flashlight, another hit him three times with a baton. Because Le continued to fight, one of the officers used a Taser, while the other applied a "carotid restraint," sheriff’s investigators say.

Le then began to show signs of "medical distress," according to investigators. He was taken to a hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

Tu disputed the Sheriff’s Department's findings in part, saying a family member observed the incident and said it involved excessive use of force. Tu said two officers combined to strike Le about 20 times with a flashlight, used a Taser on his ribs twice and administered a chokehold, which his family believes ultimately killed him. Tu also said at least one officer kicked Le while he was on the floor.

"It was abuse of the colored uniform," Tu said, adding that he wants the L.A. County district attorney’s office to launch a full investigation. "They’re going to try to sweep this under the rug."

Sheriff's Department Lt. Holly Francisco said the district attorney’s office also is investigating the incident, which is standard protocol. She disputed Tu’s claims that Le was struck 20 times and was kicked by officers.

The L.A. County coroner’s office conducted an autopsy on Le on Monday, but Lt. Larry Dietz said the case is on a security hold and no information can be released.

Sheriff’s Department investigators said Le injured the two officers involved. They say one suffered injuries to the nose and upper lip, the other to an elbow and knee and had difficulty breathing. Both were treated at a hospital and released.

Detectives say Le had previously been arrested by El Monte police in 2005 and again in 2006 for disputes with his family members. In one of those instances, investigators said, Le stabbed his brother.


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-- Matt Stevens