Jesse Dominguez had the same aspirations as many in Los Angeles: to become an actor.
And he also shared the same struggles: substance abuse issues, serious mental health issues, and homelessness.
On Sunday afternoon, when his family said it must have been a mental health episode or a drug-fueled crisis, Dominguez was shot and killed by a California Highway Patrol officer at the following a fight on Highway 105 in Watts, near the sober living center where he lived.
CHP officials said that during the altercation, Dominguez “was able to gain access to a Taser” and used it against the officer.
“Fearing for his safety, the officer fired his service weapon, striking the pedestrian,” the CHP said in a statement.
His family, however, sees the incident differently.
“I’ve pretty much ‘supported blue’ in a lot of circumstances,” said Akasha Dominguez, the man’s mother-in-law, referring to a slogan aimed at supporting the police. “There have been cases where (police) have used excessive force. But I was never on the other end of the line. Now I have a completely different position. This is absolutely police brutality.
His family said Dominguez carried a Taser to protect himself after being threatened by other people living at the facility where he was staying.
Akasha Dominguez and other family members were in shock Tuesday after learning Dominguez had been killed. Graphic video appears to show the encounter that led to the shooting, in which Dominguez and a CHP officer fight on the sidewalk of the closed highway before the officer stands up and shoots Dominguez several times .
The end of his life was unimaginable to members of Dominguez’s family, who knew the 33-year-old as a troubled man, a “tender” and who wanted more than anything to become an actor, even though he never got role.
Dominguez suffered from bipolar disorder as well as substance use disorder, according to his father, Jesse Dominguez. He wanted to be an actor or a singer, but he bounced from job to job, mostly as a waiter. While his family had tried to help the younger Dominguez, who was homeless, and offered him housing, he wanted to make it on his own, his father said.
His failure as an actor depressed him, his family said.
“We feel really bad that Los Angeles stole it. The Hollywood scene made him want to be this character. No matter how hard we tried to get him to take another job or get a formal education, that’s what he wanted to do. We weren’t going to destroy his dreams,” Dominguez’s father said.
The 55-year-old former Marine told the Times he couldn’t bring himself to watch a bystander’s video that appeared to show the final moments of his son’s life. But his wife and daughter do.
The family is grappling with the same questions that use-of-force experts say will be at the center of the investigation into the shooting of the officer, who has not been identified.
“I don’t know why the officer thought about getting involved. If someone is walking on the highway, something is wrong. Either they’re in a mental health crisis or something else is going on,” Akasha Dominguez said. “He wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. Why did he have to use this type of force? After (the officer) had already fired his gun once, why did he get up and do it again and again?
The questions posed by Dominguez’s mother-in-law will likely be addressed in the California Department of Justice’s investigation into the fatal shooting.
The DOJ is investigating police shootings in which an unarmed civilian was killed.
Law enforcement experts interviewed by The Times on Monday were divided.
Travis Norton, a law enforcement officer who heads the California Assn. of tactical officers after action, said video is a limited way to understand a police shooting.
“It’s difficult to make a diagnosis without knowing what the officer saw, experienced and interpreted,” Norton said. “All I see is a very short fight. I see the suspect pointing at something that looks like some sort of weapon. … Based on the video, without further details being known, the use of deadly force appears appropriate.”
But other experts say the use of force raises many questions.
Ed Obayashi, an expert on police shootings who investigates incidents on behalf of many California law enforcement agencies, said investigators would immediately ask the officer why he was speaking to the person without a partner nor reinforcement in the immediate vicinity.
“Why did you shoot him when he was on the ground?” » Obayashi said investigators would ask the question. “You have separated yourself from the individual; why was he always a threat to you?
Akasha Dominguez said she didn’t understand why the officer engaged without backup and why he used deadly force so quickly — even though her stepson had a Taser.
“I don’t know when the use of deadly force became the first thing cops do in this situation,” said Michele Dominguez, the man’s sister.
Family members said they are contacting civil rights attorneys and awaiting the results of the investigation, which could take months or even years.
For now, Dominguez’s father said he won’t watch the video, but acknowledged he’s only delaying the inevitable.
“I’ll have to watch the video.” I know at some point I have to see him. But I’m so raw right now,” he said. “The last time I saw him, he was smiling. He was happy. And the last thing I want to see is have my last memory of him experiencing what he did in that video.