Q&A: A look at shooting of armed man by California deputies

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2015 3:59 AM
Q&A: A look at shooting of armed man by California deputies

LYNWOOD, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is investigating the fatal shooting of an armed man by deputies summoned to the scene after 911 calls reporting he was pointing the weapon at people and firing shots into the air.

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WHAT HAPPENED?

Several alarmed people told 911 dispatchers that they saw a man walking down a street waving a gun and shooting in the air Saturday in Lynwood, a south Los Angeles County city. Video shows deputies shooting at Nicholas Robertson and continuing to fire after the 28-year-old fell and crawled on the pavement. Investigators said two deputies fired more than 30 times after Robertson refused to drop the weapon and walked across a busy street to a filling station where a family was pumping gas.

"There was never a time when the weapon was not in his possession," homicide Capt. Steven Katz said in response to questions about why the deputies kept shooting the man after he was down.

Robertson's family members and some activists said the shooting was not justified and that Robertson may not have heard the deputies' command to drop the gun.

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HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO OTHER POLICE SHOOTINGS MAKING HEADLINES?

The shooting was notably different from some other recent flashpoints in the national debate over police use of force: The suspect clearly had a weapon and was on a busy street full of bystanders and drivers. A family reported he fired the gun in front of their house.

"It's an absolutely justifiable shooting," said Ken Cooper, a New York-based use of force expert who trains police and has testified for and against officers.

"The biggest issue here is the suspect has a gun. He's an active shooter," Cooper said. "I've seen horrific murders by police officers. This is not that case. There may be some similarities in the way it looked to the uninformed, but this is hugely different."

Robertson's death came less than two weeks after five San Francisco officers shot and killed Mario Woods, 26, after they say he refused commands to drop an 8-inch knife. Police were responding to a stabbing report Dec. 2 when they encountered Woods. Several bystanders recorded video of the shooting.

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HOW HAVE SHERIFF'S OFFICIALS REACTED?

Within a day, authorities released video of Robertson and recordings of the 911 calls that brought deputies to the gas station. A close-up from security footage was released that showed Robertson stretched out on the ground with a gun in his grip.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell vowed transparency and said the investigation into Robertson's death would be handled "with the utmost professionalism and integrity." He urged anyone with information to come forward.

"There's gonna be criticism anytime there's a deputy-involved shooting. We've seen that in the last two years or so, the sentiment across America has been critical," McDonnell said. "That's why we ... try to be as transparent as we can with the information that we can share."

A multi-agency investigation is planned that will include the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office and the sheriff's Homicide Bureau and Internal Affairs Bureau, officials said in a release.

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WHAT DO USE-OF-FORCE EXPERTS SAY?

Experts agree that as long as a suspect poses a danger to officers or the public, use of force is justified.

Greg Meyer, a former Los Angeles police captain who also testifies about use of force, said the video doesn't provide enough information to tell whether the shooting was justified.

But "he still has a gun, he's still moving around, he's still a threat."

Jim Bueermann, president of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Police Foundation, said the threat to the public was clear.

"I think there is a logical consequence to walking around in a busy commercial area during the day firing a handgun and then refusing to comply with the police," Bueermann said. "It's not illogical for someone to figure out if you do this, the odds of you being shot by the police escalate dramatically."