LOS ANGELES >> A civilian commission has rejected a recommendation from the city’s chief of police, ruling officers were not justified in the fatal shooting of an unarmed autistic man in the Koreatown neighborhood last year.
The panel unanimously rebuked Chief Charlie Beck for the third time in dozens of use-of-force cases since he took over the department in November 2009, the Los Angeles Times said Saturday.
Beck had concluded after an internal investigation that gang enforcement officers Allan Corrales and George Diego violated department policy in dealing with Steven Eugene Washington. But the chief ultimately decided it was reasonable for them to believe Washington had a gun.
Police said at the time that the two officers were acting in self-defense when they shot Washington, 27, in the head last March 20 as he appeared to remove something from his waistband.
Both officers told investigators they heard a loud noise — which one described as a "deep boom" — as they drove an unmarked patrol car through Koreatown, according to Beck’s report on the incident.
The Times obtained a redacted version of the report, which conceals the officers’ names and makes it impossible to tell what role each man played in the shooting.
The officers said they turned the car around and drove slowly alongside Washington, who was walking near where they heard the noise. The officer told investigators Washington turned toward him, gave him a "hard" look, and then reached into his pants, according to the report.
One officer said he saw a dark object tucked into Washington’s waistband and, convinced it was a gun, drew his own weapon and pointed it at the man, according to the report.
The officer in the passenger seat told investigators Washington had a "blank stare" and walked toward the patrol car, ignoring orders to raise his hands.
The officer fired a single shot, then ducked down below the window. The shot struck Washington in the head.
Washington had no weapon. The dark object the officer observed was probably Washington’s black cell phone.
Coroner’s officials found the phone still in its holster attached to Washington’s waistband, according to the Times.
The shooting drew sharp criticism from Washington’s family, who said the man was autistic and fearful of strangers. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California urged police to re-examine its policies.
The civilian commission said Corrales and Diego violated department policies that govern when an officer can use lethal force.
Beck initiated disciplinary proceedings against Corrales and Diego following the commission’s finding, a senior LAPD official told the Times. Only the chief can impose discipline in the case.
Beck declined to comment.
Paul Weber, president of the police officers’ union, told the Times he strongly disagreed with the commission’s conclusion.
"I don’t know what they expect officers to do," he said. "Wait until one of them is shot before they react?"
The civilian commission was expected to release a report next week outlining its reasoning on the case.