By Stefanie Dazio
The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles police chief said Wednesday he is concerned about two recent fatal police shootings, including one in which officers failed to call for a specially trained mental health team during an interaction with a man in crisis.
Chief Michel Moore said Wednesday that he is “deeply concerned” by the deaths of those men, as well as a third, over two days — two fatally shot by officers and one who went into cardiac arrest hours after police used a stun gun during a struggle.
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office is still investigating the cases of Keenan Anderson, the cardiac arrest patient who is related to a Black Lives Matter co-founder, and Oscar Sanchez. The office has not yet ruled on the cause and manner of their deaths. Both died on Jan. 3.
Takar Smith’s death was ruled a homicide by gunshot wounds, which is standard procedure following fatal police shootings. His wife had sought help from police for a restraining order violation on Jan. 2 and warned the LAPD of her husband’s mental health condition.
The shootings occurred amid clamor for nationwide law enforcement reform — particularly when officers interact with people who have mental illnesses — and increased scrutiny on fatal police shootings.
Smith, 45, was fatally shot after raising a 10-inch (25-centimeter) butcher-style knife above his head after officers used a stun gun and pepper spray. The LAPD said Officer Joseph Zizzo and Officer Nicolas Alejandre opened fire.
Smith’s killing has already prompted Moore to order additional training for officers. The LAPD on Wednesday released body-worn video footage of the three instances, well ahead of the typical 45-day deadline. By department policy, officers involved in fatal shootings are taken out of the field for at least two weeks.
Smith’s wife initially sought help from officers at a nearby police station. She then told a dispatcher that her husband had been diagnosed with schizophrenia but had not been taking his medication and would likely fight anyone who intervened.
“He’s not in his right mind,” she told the dispatcher.
A police officer at the scene summoned additional officers and a supervisor. However, none of the department’s specialized mental health teams, which are paired with clinicians, were called to his wife’s apartment after her initial report or during the roughly 15-minute interaction with police, during which Moore said Smith showed signs of mental illness.
The officers initially attempted to de-escalate the situation but pulled out their weapons — including a stun gun and a less-lethal projectile launcher — after Smith brandished a chair, body-worn camera footage shows. The officers later warned him they would “be lethal” when he went into the unit’s kitchen despite their commands.
Increasingly agitated and incoherent, Smith grabbed a knife from the kitchen counter, the footage shows. Officers pepper sprayed him and used a stun gun repeatedly while yelling “drop the knife” as Smith was on his knees in the corner of the kitchen and screaming “get away!”
He dropped but then picked up the knife and raised it over his head. Two officers fired seven rounds in total, striking Smith as he knelt. Another officer continued to use the stun gun on Smith as he lay face down on the floor. He was pronounced dead at the scene and the knife was found under his body.
The shootings came in the days after Moore applied for a second five-year term as the head of the police department. The city’s new mayor, Karen Bass, has not yet said whether she supports Moore’s reappointment, which will be voted on by the five-member civilian police commission. The City Council can overrule the commission’s decision with 10 veto votes.
The department has been criticized in recent years for a rise in police shootings, as well as other high-profile failures.
Bass echoed Moore’s concerns and called the videos of all three incidents “deeply disturbing.”
“Especially as a former health care professional, I am deeply troubled that mental health experts were not called in, even when there was a documented history of past mental health crisis,” Bass said in a statement, addressing Smith’s death. “When there is no immediate risk to others, law enforcement must not be the first responder when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. I believe officers and Angelenos agree on this.”
Black Lives Matter supporters protested the officers’ actions in Anderson’s death outside the LAPD headquarters on Wednesday as Moore held his news conference inside.
Anderson’s cousin Patrisse Cullors said in an Instagram post on Sunday that Anderson was an English teacher who worked with high schoolers.
“Keenan deserves to be alive right now, his child deserves to be raised by his father,” Cullors wrote. “Keenan we will fight for you and for all of our loved ones impacted by state violence.”
Anderson was the suspect in a hit-and-run traffic collision in Venice, Moore said, and initially complied with officers’ orders as they investigated whether he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He later fled and officers chased him into the middle of the street.
They used physical force and a stun gun during a confrontation lasting several minutes, during which Anderson screamed for help and struggled.
“They’re trying to kill me,” he yelled.
Police body camera footage showed that at one point an officer’s elbow was pushed into Anderson’s neck. The same officer’s forearm also pressed against his chest and another officer said, “watch your elbow, partner.”
“They’re trying to George Floyd me,” Anderson said as an officer threatened to use a stun gun, which was repeatedly deployed seconds later as Anderson was face down on the pavement and begged for help, saying, “I’m not resisting.”
After he was subdued, Anderson was transported to a hospital, where he died more than four hours later.
“It’s unclear what role” the officers played in Anderson’s death, Moore said. The officers were not named in the department’s news release.
An LAPD toxicology test found cocaine and cannabis in Anderson’s body, although those results are separate from the coroner’s independent report, the chief said.
In Sanchez’s case, Moore said the 35-year-old man brandished what appeared to be a “makeshift spear” at officers. It was the stem of a motorized scooter with a 3-inch (7.62-centimeter) spike attached to the end.
Police initially received a report of a man throwing a metal object at a passing vehicle around 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 3. The driver pulled over and allegedly was confronted by Sanchez, who threatened him with a knife, the department said in a statement.
Officers later found Sanchez on the second-story landing of a home and ordered him, in Spanish and English, to come down the stairs. When police went upstairs after about 10 minutes of negotiations, Sanchez allegedly confronted them with the weapon.
Officers Diego Bracamontes and Christopher Guerrero fired a total of six bullets, striking Sanchez multiple times in the torso and legs, as another officer fired a single, less-lethal round, the LAPD said.
The officers used a shield to protect themselves as they went up the stairs, which blocked one officer’s body camera during the gunfire. Another officer’s camera angle was obscured by the less-lethal projectile launcher during the shooting.
Sanchez was pronounced dead at the hospital.