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Police Commission Says LAPD Officer Justified In 2016 Shooting Of South L.A. Teen

Carnell Snell Jr. (Via Facebook)
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The Los Angeles Police Commission, a panel of civilians chosen by Mayor Eric Garcetti to oversee LAPD policy, decided unanimously on Tuesday that an LAPD officer was justified in the 2016 shooting of 18-year-old Carnell Snell Jr. While the officer was cleared, the commission faulted some of the tactics used by three officers who were chasing after Snell in the moments before the shooting.

The decision came during a Tuesday Commission meeting that had been repeatedly disrupted by attendees who were protesting police brutality against black communities. As reported at ABC7, the meeting was halted twice, with four protesters later detained by police after they refused to disperse. Three of the four were later arrested.

Snell's shooting took place at around 1 p.m. on October 1, 2016 in South L.A. According to Police Chief Charlie Beck, officers were by the intersection of 108th Street and Western Avenue when they spotted a vehicle with paper plates, reports the L.A. Times. Beck said the license didn't match with the year of the car, leading officers to suspect that the vehicle may have been stolen.

The officers attempted to pull over the car. When they turned on their sirens, Snell left the vehicle and led authorities on a chase on foot, said Beck. The officers alleged that Snell was seen carrying a gun during the chase. Beck said that, after hopping a fence, Snell turned towards the officers with the gun in his hand. The officers shot at Snell, who was later pronounced dead at the scene.

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Snell's relatives would later tell the Times that Snell had been killed outside the house where he lived. "At the end of the day, the cops came and shot my brother," Trenell Snell, Carnell's sister, told the Times. Witnesses told KTLA that they saw Carnell running away from the officers with his arms up in the air when he was shot.

The incident caused an uproar in the neighborhood and among activists. On the night of Snell's shooting, members of Black Lives Matter gathered outside Mayor Eric Garcetti's home in Hancock Park to protest the shooting.

Protests and vigils at the intersection of 108th Street and Western Avenue (where the incident started) would remain for days after the shooting. Members of BLM would also protest outside of LAPD headquarters in downtown L.A. two days after Snell's death. Melina Abdullah, an organizer for the Los Angeles chapter for BLM, told LAist in October that she refuted the LAPD's version of events, adding that the department was "engaging in this process of double assassination—first killing the body of Carnell Snell, and then assassinating his character. And so it was really, really important that we uplifted the stories of the community, pushed back against the posthumous character assassination of Carnell Snell, and gave our own narrative."

The LAPD, facing pressure from the public, would make a rare move in releasing footage of Snell during the incident. The surveillance footage appeared to show Snell evading police and holding what appears to be a firearm. Beck told City News Service that the video was released to support the LAPD's account of the events leading up to the shooting. "My huge concern is that the dueling narratives further divide the community," Beck said.

Snell's shooting came during a time when distrust in the LAPD in some communities was spiking. A couple months prior to Snell's shooting, 14-year-old Jesse Romero and 18-year-old Kenney Watkins were killed in separate LAPD shootings. Romero was fatally struck by police in Boyle Heights on August 9. A week later, Watkins was shot and killed in South L.A. In each incident, officers had claimed that the teenagers had produced a firearm. The Police Commission ruled in July that officers were justified in both incidents, though they'd unanimously faulted one officer's conduct leading up to the shooting of Romero.

Two years prior to Snell's shooting, Ezell Ford, a 24-year-old black man, was shot and killed by officers in South L.A. after what was described by authorities as an "investigative stop." Ford's family said that he was on the ground and complying with orders when he was shot. Officers contradicted this claim and said that he'd tackled one of the officers during the confrontation. It was later reported that Ford had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in the past.

The Police Commission would later find that one officer was justified in Ford's shooting, while another had violated department policy. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office announced in January that it would not be pressing charges against the officers involved. In February, the City of Los Angeles approved a $1.5 million settlement with Ford's family.