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Criminal Justice

‘He Just Needed Help’ — Family Of Takar Smith Will Sue After Fatal LAPD Shooting

Takar Smith's family comes together for a photo outside LAPD headquarters on Friday, January 13. Smith's niece, Rashi wears a purple hoodie. His brother, Raischard, wears glasses and a plaid shirt. Raischard has his hand on their mother, Alicia Smith, who wears a blue shirt that has an image of Takar on it.
Takar Smith's niece, Rashi Smith (left), standing next to Smith's brother, Raischard Smith; Smith's mother, Alicia Smith, is sitting on the walker.
(Robert Garrova
/
LAist)
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The family of Takar Smith, who was fatally shot by an LAPD officer last week while he was experiencing a mental health crisis, will file a wrongful death lawsuit, according to their lawyer.

The police killing deeply concerned Mayor Karen Bass and other elected officials. Even LAPD Chief Michel Moore has questioned officers’ actions leading up to the shooting.

Smith’s wife, Shameka Smith, said at a news conference Friday outside police headquarters that she had been trying to get her husband help the day police killed him.

“I never knew by going to the police that they would not help me, and they just let me down,” Smith said. “My husband was a great man, he just needed help.”

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‘Anybody That Knows Takar, They Love Him’

Smith had been diagnosed with schizophrenia within the last six years, said family attorney Eric Valenzuela.

Smith had six children, and his family on Friday remembered his love of music and going to the beach. “Anybody that knows Takar, they love him,” Smith's brother, Raischard Smith, said.

“There’s a lot of people out here with mental issues,” he added. “And we people call for help, we’re not calling for executions."

At a press conference Wednesday, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said several points of the Smith incident give him “pause.”

“I’m being very clear about my dissatisfaction with what I believe were points of information regarding [Smith’s] mental health ... that ... resources were not called upon,” Moore said. The chief questioned why one of the LAPD's Mental Evaluation Unit (MEU) teams were not called to the scene to attempt to de-escalate the situation.

The MEU teams are specially trained two-person units — made up of an armed officer and a mental health clinician — and they have the goal of calming the agitated person.

A Confrontation The Day After New Year’s

Smith was allegedly armed with a kitchen knife on Jan. 2 before officers tased him and then opened fire with live rounds.

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In audio of a 911 call released by the department, a caller can be heard telling dispatchers that Smith lives with schizophrenia and has not been taking his medication.

“He’s supposed to take medication because he has, like a mental illness,” the caller says.

Several officers arrive and after entering the apartment they attempt to talk Smith down. Smith’s speech is at times disorganized and unintelligible.

After officers tase Smith multiple times, he appears to grab a kitchen knife at which point an officer fires live rounds.

Three Deaths in One Week

Smith was the first to die at the hands of the LAPD during the first week of 2023.

Keenan Anderson died the next day, after police tased him four times within the span of about 30 seconds. Moore claimed Anderson had been involved in a traffic collision and was attempting to flee. He said Anderson was “resisting officers’ actions to take him into custody.”

In a body-cam video from one of the officers, Anderson appears distraught and says at one point that someone is trying to kill him.

Anderson can be heard saying, “They’re trying to George Floyd me.”

The same day, 35-year-old Oscar Leon Sanchez was shot and killed in a confrontation with LAPD officers. Sanchez allegedly threatened a driver with a knife before officers located him at an apparently abandoned home.

The LAPD claims Sanchez “stepped toward [the officers] while holding a two-foot-long metal object with an approximate three-inch spike protruding from one end,” at which point officers fired live and non-lethal ammunition. Sanchez was struck and killed by live ammunition, according to the department.

In video released Wednesday, Sanchez’s actions aren’t clear because one of the officers is using a riot shield that blocks the view of Sanchez.

Sanchez’s family said he was struggling with his mental health when he was killed. The family's attorney said Sanchez has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder.

The LAPD confirmed that a mental health team was not requested in the Smith case or the other two incidents.

The Mayor: ‘I Am Deeply Troubled’

In a statement released following the news conference, Mayor Karen Bass said she had “grave concerns about the deeply disturbing tapes that were released.”

“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 added.

In a statement, L.A. City Council member Eunisses Hernandez said, “We can no longer look away from this crisis in our policing system — it’s long past time that we establish permanent, life-affirming, care-first responses to mental health crises that truly uplift the public’s safety and address the root causes of harm.”

Councilmember Hugo Soto Martinez issued a statement calling for the officers responsible for the deaths to be immediately fired.

City Controller Kenneth Mejia demanded that the LAPD release unedited versions of officers’ body cam video, and criticized the department’s handling of the incident.

“LAPD was told clearly that Mr. Smith had mental health needs, yet officers failed to request ANY of THREE available mental health-trained LAPD teams,” Mejia wrote.

What questions do you have about mental health in SoCal?
One of my goals on the mental health beat is to make the seemingly intractable mental health care system more navigable.