Police commission finds LAPD officers at fault in two deadly shootings

- The Los Angeles Police Commission decided Tuesday that three officers acted improperly last year in killing two people in separate shooting cases.

The commission decided that officers Zackary Goldstein and Andrew Hacoupian violated department policy on the use of deadly force when they fired shots at 46-year-old James Byrd in Van Nuys on Oct. 3, ultimately killing him.

Byrd had thrown a 40-ounce glass beer bottle through the rear window of a patrol car, leading the officers inside to believe they were being shot at, according to police accounts and a report by Chief Charlie Beck.

The officers had been stopped at a red light, about to turn onto Victory Boulevard from Sepulveda Boulevard, when the rear window of the vehicle was shattered.

The officers said that after they got out of the cruiser, they saw Byrd was pointing his hand at them while holding what appeared to be a handgun or dark object.

It was unclear what the man was holding, but an investigation failed to turn up any weapon other than the broken glass bottle found in the back seat of the patrol vehicle, according to Beck's report.

Beck wrote that while he felt the initial round of shooting was warranted, a second volley by the officers was "out-of-policy'' because it did not appear to him that the officers had enough reason to believe they faced "imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.''

Before the initial shots, the officers described the damage done by the bottle as resembling that of gunshots.

Beck did not specify how the second use of lethal force fell short of policy, but the account given in his report says that just before they began shooting at Byrd again, one of the officers said Byrd appeared to be in the process of fleeing, while still facing them.

In one officer's account, Byrd appeared to be turning towards him, so he began firing, while the other officer said Byrd seemed to be "attempting to point the gun at me and my partner again to shoot at us again.''

"At that time, I discharged my weapon again about six to eight rounds, at which point the suspect went down,'' the officer said.

Police Commissioner Steve Soboroff cast the dissenting vote on the out- of-policy determination for one officer. The decision was unanimous for the other officer.

In a separate case, the police commission faulted the higher-ranked of the two officers who fatally shot 37-year-old Norma Angelica Guzman on Sept. 27, saying the officer acted out of department policy.   

The determination diverges from Beck's assessment that both officers, Samuel Briggs and Antonio McNeely, acted properly in using deadly force because they had enough reason to fear for their lives or that of a partner's.

One officer had a rank of a "training officer,'' while the other officer's rank indicates he recently graduated from the academy.

It was unclear from the redacted version of Beck's report if the more highly ranked officer was Briggs or McNeely, and LAPD media relations officials said they did not have permission to release information about the ranks of either of the officers.

Commissioners did not explain during today's meeting how they reached their decisions, and why they disagreed with part of Beck's determinations.

The shooting occurred near the barber shop at 2120 S. San Pedro St., just south of downtown Los Angeles, at about 9:30 a.m., according to Beck's report.

Briggs and McNeely, who were from the Newton Division were responding to a report of a woman with a butcher knife standing in front of a barber shop, according to Beck's report.

When the officers arrived on scene, they determined that Guzman fit the description. Guzman began advancing toward the officers, going from being 70 feet away from the officers to four feet away within 11 seconds, according to Beck's report.   

The report also said that body camera footage shows that despite repeated commands by one of the officers that Guzman drop the knife in her hand, she continued advancing towards the officers, getting as close as four feet away from one of them and yelling "shoot me!''

The officer closest to Guzman fired one round at her, while the second officer who was further away, seeing that Guzman had gotten close to his partner while holding a knife, fired two rounds at her "to stop the deadly threat,'' according to Beck's report.

The officers than called for an ambulance, but Guzman died later at the hospital.

An 8-inch serrated knife was recovered at the scene, according to police reports last year.

Details about recommendations by the Office of the Inspector General, which answers to the commission, were not immediately available today.

All four officers involved in the shooting cases are on full working duty, LAPD Officer Aareon Jefferson said.

It is up to Beck to take disciplinary steps, if any, against the officers who were determined as acting out of policy.

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