Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Police Commission Rules 2015 Police Shooting in Sycamore Square Unjustified

Captain Leslie Howard and Deputy Chief Beatrice Girmala address questions at community meeting Tuesday evening at Wilshire Ebell
Then-Wilshire Division Captain Howard Leslie and Deputy Chief Beatrice Girmala spoke to neighbors last July about the fatal LAPD shooting in Sycamore Square.

Last July, during a police response to a call about a man on a skateboard breaking windows near Wilshire and La Brea, LAPD officers caught up with the suspect a few blocks away, on the 800 block of S. Sycamore Ave. During the altercation that followed, one of the officers shot and killed the suspect after he grabbed the other officer’s taser and used it against her.  Last week, after a months-long investigation, the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners released a report that rules that the shooting violated LAPD policy and was not justified, despite the officer’s belief that the suspect might be reaching for a gun.

The report recounts, in minute detail, how the incident unfolded, from the time the officers arrived on the scene in response to a complaint until the suspect was transported to a hospital, where he later died.

According to the report, the officers tried to restrain the suspect, and (properly) used a taser and other non-lethal methods (including drawing their weapons) to subdue him.  But there were also actions that were not according to policy, including one officer setting her taser down at one point on a nearby step (where the suspect grabbed it and used it against her)…and the actual firing of the other officer’s gun, even though he said he believed the suspect might be reaching for a gun of his own. (It was later learned that the suspect was unarmed.)

“Based on the totality of the circumstance,” said the report, “the BOPC believed that an officer with similar training and experience as Officer A, while faced with the same or similar circumstances would not reasonably believe the Subject’s actions presented an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury at the time Officer A fired his service pistol at the Subject.”

The decision aligned, said the LA Times, with a recommendation from Police Chief Charlie Beck, and the minority opinion of two members of an internal LAPD board that reviewed the case before it was sent to the Police Commission.

According to the Times, “The case marks one of a handful of shootings by on-duty LAPD officers last year in which police commissioners have determined the officers violated department rules for using deadly force” including the 2014 shooting of Ezell Ford in South L.A.  In that case, the Times said,

“The commission’s ruling was welcomed by Ford’s family and others who had protested the shooting. But police union officials warned that the decision had roiled officers, prompting concerns that they would be unfairly judged for proactive policing.”

Last summer, in the week after the incident, it seemed like the LAPD was worried about similar protests in the Sycamore case.  Wilshire Division Captain Howard Leslie and area Senior Lead Officers held a community meeting to discuss the incident with nervous neighbors, and a major theme of the presentation was how hard it is, in the heat of the moment, for even trained officers to accurately assess a situation, decide how to respond, and do so in split-second fashion.

What will happen next in the Sycamore case may not be publicly known. According to the LA Times story, state law gives the LAPD the sole authority, in such cases, to decide if or how to discipline the officer involved, and its decision will not be made public.


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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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