Sheriff's Top Watchdog Says Department Blocked Him From Kizzee Autopsy

A protest earlier this week has been one of several demanding answers from authorities about the death of Dijon Kizzee, who was shot and killed by Sheriff's deputies. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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L.A. County Inspector General Max Huntsman says he was blocked from attending the autopsy of Dijon Kizzee, who was fatally shot by sheriff's deputies in South L.A. on Monday.

Huntsman told an emergency town hall meeting of the Civilian Oversight Commission Thursday night that he had asked sheriff's officials to observe the proceedings.

"I was concerned when I did not hear back from them," Huntsman said. "So I called the coroner myself and he told me that the autopsy would be over in an hour — the Sheriff's Department had had it scheduled and been present without telling us."

Sheriff Alex Villanueva shot back, calling Huntman's comments "inflammatory." He said his department "doesn't have the authority or control" to decide who attends an autopsy.

Sheriff's investigators could have given a heads-up to the inspector general about when the autopsy was scheduled. But they did not.

The back-and-forth was another example of the breakdown in trust between Huntsman and the sheriff, who has restricted the inspector general's access to department records and personnel.

Villanueva also has a chilly relationship with the oversight commission. Commission leaders said they invited sheriff's officials to the virtual town hall, but they declined to attend.

Kizzee's case is not currently listed in a search of the coroner's online database.

HERE'S WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE SHOOTING SO FAR

  • Two deputies were on patrol in the Westmont neighborhood, tucked near the intersection of the 110 and 105 freeways, around 3:15 p.m.
  • The department says the deputies tried to stop Kizzee, 29, for committing a traffic violation on his bike; they have not said what that violation was.
  • Kizzee allegedly dropped the bike and ran about a block before deputies caught up with him in the 1200 block of West 109th Place.
  • Kizzee allegedly punched one deputy and, as they grappled, "he dropped a jacket at which time a black semi-automatic handgun fell to the ground."
  • Deputies opened fired when Kizzee "made a motion" toward the gun, the statement said; however, the LASD did not state that Kizzee motioned toward the gun until more than 24 hours after the incident.
  • Security video shows Kizzee struggling with one deputy and then attempting to move away as both deputies repeatedly shoot at him — even after he falls to the ground.
  • There is no body cam footage of the incident because the Sheriff's Department is the largest law enforcement agency in the country without body cams. The first body cams are scheduled to be in service next month, after years of delay.

'CUMULATIVE TRAUMA'

Dijon Kizzee. (Courtesy of Kizzee family)

Kizzee's death comes amid a months-long reckoning over police killings sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. In that case, outrage was fueled by video showing an officer pressing his knee against Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes and Floyd telling officers he couldn't breathe. Officers had been called to the scene because Floyd had allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill at a nearby store. His death led to massive protests across the nation and around the world.

Since then, other police killings of Black and Brown people have come under increasing scrutiny and sparked new protests.

On Thursday night, Black Lives Matter L.A. protesters attending the emergency town hall said Kizzee's death was another police execution of a man of color. Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter L.A., said earlier this week: "At the time they shot, he had already dropped the gun. According to their own story, he did not have a gun when they killed him."

Kizzee's family is now represented by a number of prominent attorneys, including Ben Crump — who also represents the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake.

Other speakers at the town hall underscored the impact of police killings on the community.

"It's starting to feel like a cumulative trauma that I cannot escape — especially being a mother of three Black sons," said Katie Askew.

Gilbert Sanchez of the Community Coalition told the commissioners, "This continuously sends the message to my community here in South Central Los Angeles that they really don't give a damn."

CONTROVERSIAL SHOOTINGS, SIMILAR NARRATIVES

The circumstances described by sheriff's officials are similar to how the department describes what happened before sheriff's deputies shot and killed Andrés Guardado in June. In that case, the department alleges that Guardado, 18, reached for a gun that was on the ground.

The coroner found Guardado was shot five times in the back. In a highly unusual step, Medical Examiner-Coroner John Lucas released Guardado's autopsy to the public over the objections of sheriff's officials who had placed what is known as a "security hold" on the case, commonly used to keep high-profile autopsies sealed while an investigation is underway.

Villanueva attacked Lucas for releasing the autopsy, saying the move had "the potential to jeopardize the investigation."

In the same statement, the sheriff also sharply criticized L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who he claimed had pressured the coroner. Villanueva was elected in 2018 to a four-year term as sheriff, defeating incumbent Sheriff Jim McDonnell. Since his election, he has had an extremely contentious relationship with the Board of Supervisors, which funds his department. He has also frequently clashed with Inspector General Huntsman.

HOW WE'RE REPORTING ON THIS

Public Safety Correspondent Frank Stoltze is continuing to cover this story. Photojournalist Chava Sanchez has contributed to coverage and photographed protests.

WHAT QUESTIONS WE'RE ASKING

  • What are the names and tenure of the two deputies who shot Kizzee?
  • What did the autopsy find?
  • Did the deputies' tactics meet department policy?
  • Why did it take more than 24 hours for the LASD to allege that Kizzee motioned toward the gun?

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