Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles police acted appropriately when they killed a gunman who had wounded a SWAT officer during a standoff in March, the LAPD’s civilian oversight board ruled Tuesday.
Officer Rodney Williams was shot in the cheek while providing cover to allow another officer to toss a tear gas canister into the University Park home where 36-year-old Jorge Cerda had been holed up for hours, police said.
Moments after Cerda shot Williams, he emerged from the home carrying a shotgun. Officer Steve Hernandez, another SWAT member, then fatally shot Cerda from a perch in an adjacent second-story apartment, according to the LAPD’s account of the incident and the officer’s body-camera video.
The five-member Police Commission, which rules on all shootings by officers, voted unanimously that Hernandez had followed department policies in shooting Cerda after it reviewed a report on the incident by LAPD Chief Michel Moore, who reached the same conclusion. Following the department’s investigation into the shooting, Moore also ordered SWAT to make changes to how it responds to certain scenarios.
The exchange of gunfire occurred after Cerda’s family members had called police to the home in the 1000 block of West 21st Street and told them Cerda was brandishing a gun, had fired into the air, and appeared to be under the influence of drugs.
Over the next four hours, officers and family members spoke to Cerda over the phone and with a megaphone, urging him to surrender. Eventually, LAPD supervisors at the scene decided the persuasion efforts were not working and SWAT officers moved in to try to force Cerda out of the home.
According to the chief’s report, Hernandez had seen Williams get shot, saw another officer start pulling Williams away, and then saw Cerda come outside with the shotgun pointed in their direction.
“So, at that point it almost seemed like he was hunting,” Hernandez told investigators. “And I say hunting because I can’t think of — for lack of a better term, but it looked like he was hunting or looking to see if he could shoot them again. And … at that time is when I fired my first round.”
Hernandez said that after his first shot didn’t stop Cerda, he fired four more rounds.
Moore wrote that he agreed with an internal LAPD review panel that found “an officer with similar training and experience as Officer Hernandez, in the same situation, would reasonably believe Cerda’s actions presented an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury and that the use of deadly force was proportional, objectively reasonable, and necessary.”
Moore did not entirely agree with how the situation was handled, though.
For one, Moore questioned the decision for Williams to leave his own position of cover without a ballistic shield to provide cover for the second officer who was tossing the gas cannister into the home.
While Moore noted that Williams made a decision not to use a shield because he couldn’t hold both a shield and the long-gun he was using to cover his partner, but said he disagreed with the decision.
To avoid similar situations in the future, Moore said he would direct SWAT commanders to revise its training to “emphasize redeployment or the use of ballistic shields when deploying gas to ensure officer safety is maintained through the use of proper cover and concealment.”
Moore also noted that there was some dispute among members of the review panel over whether Williams was justified in placing his finger on the trigger of his gun in the moments before he was shot when he could not see Cerda.
At that point, Cerda had shot at Williams and Williams was aiming his weapon at a door that he believed Cerda was behind. Because of the clear threat Cerda presented, Moore determined Williams’ actions did not constitute a substantial departure from the department’s policy over when officers should touch triggers.
Still, citing the confusion around the trigger policy among the panel’s members, Moore said all training materials would be changed to reflect his position that placing a finger on a trigger “must not be a preparatory move, but, rather, a fluid motion that occurs only when the use of deadly force is imminent.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.