LAPD deadly shootings during standoff deemed justified, but chief orders changes to SWAT

Los Angeles police acted appropriately when they killed a gunman who injured a SWAT officer during a confrontation in March, the LAPD civilian oversight board said Tuesday.

Officer Rodney Williams was shot in the cheek while providing cover for another officer to fire a tear gas canister at the home in University Park where 36-year-old Jorge Cerda had been locked up for hours, police said.

Moments after Cerda shot Williams, he emerged from the house with a shotgun. Officer Steve Hernandez, another SWAT member, then shot Cerda from a perch in an adjacent second-floor apartment, according to the LAPD’s account of the incident and the officer’s body camera video.

The five-member police commission, which adjudicates all shootings by officers, voted unanimously that Hernandez followed department policies in shooting Cerda after reviewing a report on the incident from the LAPD chief, Michel Moore, who came to 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 took place after members of Cerda’s family called police at 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 by phone and megaphone, urging him to surrender. Eventually, LAPD supervisors at the scene decided the persuasion efforts weren’t working, and SWAT agents stepped in to try to force Cerda out of the house.

According to the chief’s report, Hernandez saw Williams being shot, saw another officer begin to pull Williams away, and then saw Cerda exit with the shotgun pointed in their direction.

“So at that point it almost looked like he was hunting,” Hernandez told investigators. “And I say hunt 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… that’s to that’s when I fired my first shot.

Hernandez said that after his first shot failed to stop Cerda, he fired four more shots.

Moore wrote that he agreed with an LAPD internal review board that concluded that “an officer with similar training and experience as Officer Hernandez, in the same situation, would reasonably believe that Cerda’s actions presented an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm and that the use of lethal force was proportionate, objectively reasonable and necessary.

However, Moore was not entirely on board with how the situation was handled.

On the one hand, Moore questioned Williams’ decision to leave his own cover position without a ballistic shield to provide cover for the second officer who was throwing the gas canister into the house.

While Moore noted that Williams made the decision not to use a shield because he couldn’t hold both a shield and the long gun he used to cover his partner, he said that did not agree with the decision.

To avoid similar situations in the future, Moore said he would ask SWAT commanders to revise their training to “emphasize redeployment or the use of ballistic shields when deploying gas to ensure the officer safety through the use of proper cover and concealment”.

Moore also noted that there was a dispute among review panel members over whether Williams was justified in placing his finger on the trigger of his gun in the moments before he was shot while he couldn’t see Cerda.

By then, Cerda had shot Williams, and Williams was pointing his gun at a door he believed was behind Cerda. Because of the clear threat Cerda presented, Moore determined that Williams’ actions did not constitute a material departure from department policy on when officers should touch triggers.

Still, citing confusion around the trigger policy among panel 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 movement, but rather a fluid movement that happens”. only when the use of lethal force is imminent.

Los Angeles Times

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