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Criminal Justice

3 Experts Question Whether Fatal Huntington Park Shooting Was Justified. One Defends It

A passageway where two police officers stand in the foreground out of focus. The passageway ends with a SWAT truck where police officers in khaki uniforms stand by.
Huntington Park police and SWAT officers look on as family, friends and community members gather on Sunday to protest the killing of Anthony Lowe.
(Brian Feinzimer
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Last month’s fatal police shooting of Anthony Lowe by Huntington Park police has raised questions about the officers' tactics.

Police say Lowe, who had lost both legs and used a wheelchair, stabbed someone before they approached him on the afternoon of Jan. 26.

Video released Monday shows Lowe out of his wheelchair, hobbling away on a sidewalk, away from officers for about 30 seconds. Officers followed him from about six feet away. They opened fire when he turned toward them and raised a knife.

Lowe’s son has filed a legal claim against Huntington Park, and his mother and daughter are preparing a separate claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit.

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The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is investigating the shooting.

We asked four use-of-force experts to review the video. Three believe the officers could have used different tactics to avoid the use of deadly force; one thought the use of lethal gunfire was justified.

Seth Stoughton: ‘Keep A Tactically Safe Distance’

Seth Stoughton, a professor of law at the University of South Carolina, questions why the officers weren’t farther away from Lowe.

“Generally when officers are interacting with someone with a knife or other melee weapon, they want to keep a tactically safe distance,” he said. “They want to put some space between themselves and the person with the weapon, which gives them time to think and plan and try to implement options other than using force.”

He added that police could have also used cover, pointing out there’s a tree and telephone pole at the scene the officers could have gotten behind. Police could have also used their cars or other equipment as cover, he said.

“For example, did officers have riot shields in their car?”

Staughton noted that while the video is “incredibly important, it’s not the sum total of all possible evidence in any given case.”

Josh Parker: No Imminent Threat Of Death Or Serious Injury

Josh Parker, senior counsel at the Policing Project at New York University, believes the incident didn’t warrant the use of deadly force. He notes that deadly force is only authorized if an officer reasonably believes, based on the totality of the circumstances, that it’s necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious injury to another.

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“He's certainly not within stabbing distance,” Parker said. “And … we could see in the video that he is not able to move that quickly because he's missing two legs, so this does not appear to be a case where he was posing an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.”

He also questioned why officers did not create more distance between themselves and Lowe.

“If someone is hobbling away and there's some distance between you and the person with the knife, creating greater distance is a way to avoid any imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officers or another person,” Parker said.

Tim Williams: ‘Time Was Their Companion’

Tim Williams, a retired LAPD detective and use-of-force expert, argued the incident “didn’t warrant lethal force” because it appeared the officers had time to use other tactics.

“Time was their companion and you could have brought less lethal munitions to the scene,” he said.

Williams acknowledged that a knife can cause serious bodily injury or death, but pointed out that Lowe was moving away from the officers.

Philip Stinson: Lowe ‘Already Stabbed Somebody, So It’s A Volatile Situation’

Philip Stinson, a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University, believes police were legally justified in using deadly force.

“What struck me is that we have somebody that has a knife and when the police respond they know they’ve already stabbed somebody, so it’s a volatile situation,” he said.

“You could make an argument that the officers had time on their side, that they could have slowed down the situation, that they could have deescalated the situation,” Stinson said. “But it's very difficult when you've got somebody who's moving down a sidewalk.”

Do you have questions or know of something we should look into?
Elly Yu reports on how who you are and where you live affects what kind of justice you get.

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