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Criminal Justice

LA DA Declines to File Charges Against Ex-Inglewood Police Officers In 2016 Fatal Shooting Of Couple

An aerial view of a street with an Inglewood black-and-white police car directly in front of a dark sedan, with the names Sandlin on the driver side and Michael on the passenger side superimposed on the picture. The sedan  is directly in front of a dark Bearcat police armored vehicle, with the name Cohen and Jurado superimposed on it. Another police vehicle is to the immediate left of the Bearcat, with the name M. Jaen superimposed on it. Another police vehicle is to the Bearcat's right and slightly behind it, with the names Cantrell and Islas superimposed on it. Yet another police vehicle is to the right of the Bearcat in an adjacent parking lot. The names Reidy and Parcella are superimposed on the parking lot next to that car. The photo has red arrows leading from Reidy, Parcella, Cantrell, Cohen and Jaen to the passenger side of the car.
The DA's memo on the case includes this photograph, which shows the positions of the officers on the scene and of Sandlin and Michael, as well as the trajectories of the bullets the five officers fired at Michael.
(Courtesy L.A. County District Attorney)
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Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has decided against filing criminal charges against any of the five former Inglewood police officers involved in the controversial 2016 fatal shooting of a couple.

The officers “had an honest belief in the need for self-defense and defense of others when they used deadly force” against Marquintan Sandlin and Kisha Michael, said a memo from the DA’s Justice System Integrity Division. “This honest and reasonable belief precludes criminal liability.”

All five officers were fired after the shooting, a highly unusual move by any police department.

In 2018, the city of Inglewood paid a total of $8.6 million — one of the largest such payouts in the city’s history — to settle wrongful death lawsuits by Sandlin and Michael’s families.

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It's not uncommon for the DA to decline to file charges against an officer in a case in which the officer’s department determines the shooting violated policy and a city pays out a civil settlement.

The shooting and the settlement came during intense public scrutiny of police shootings, particularly of Black people. Both Sandlin and Michael were Black.

A Date Goes Horribly Wrong

Michael, 31, and Sandlin, 32, were on a date when they were killed, according to Michael’s twin sister Trisha Shanklin, who said they'd been out together before.

A person's hands holds a composite image of two people.
An activist holds a picture of Kisha Michael, left, and Marquintan Sandlin.
(Frank Stoltze

Inglewood police found them passed out or asleep in their car just after 3 a.m. on Feb. 21, 2016. Officers backed off after they determined that Michael had a loaded handgun in her lap, according to the DA’s report.

The report describes how police parked four patrol cars around the Chevrolet Malibu sedan to box it in, and then tried using flashing lights, an air horn and blaring sirens to rouse the two for 40 minutes, without success.

When the couple finally awoke, Sandlin tried to drive away but was boxed in.

(The officers) had an honest belief in the need for self-defense and defense of others when they used deadly force ... This honest and reasonable belief precludes criminal liability.
— DA’s Justice System Integrity Division report
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“Multiple officers stated Sandlin leaned to his right and reached towards Michael’s lap, where they had observed the gun,” the report said. One officer fired two shotgun blasts.

Then, according to the report:

Michael, in the front passenger seat, opened her door. “Several seconds later, multiple officers ordered Michael not to reach for the gun,” but she lowered her hands toward her lap. “Seeing movement, several officers yelled that Michael was reaching for the weapon.”

This time, all five officers started shooting. They fired 20 shots into the car, one from a high-powered rifle atop an armored military style truck they had summoned. Michael was struck 13 times.

“Once Sandlin and Michael awoke, their lack of compliance with commands and their movements consistent with reaching for the gun caused the officers to believe the use of deadly force in defense of themselves or others was necessary,” the DA’s report said.

In a statement released late Wednesday, Gascón noted that his office had informed Sandlin's and Michael's families about the decision not to file charges, saying, "this is excruciating" and "the families are understandably devastated." The DA added: "We do want to be clear: the burden of proof for prosecution is high. Our decision does not mean that what happened is right."

The Families Say No One Needed To Die

In the lawsuit settled by Inglewood for $8.6 million, the families argued:

  • The officers could have disarmed Sandlin and Michael without using deadly force
  • That the officers were in well-covered positions when they opened fire
  • That they used excessive force.

The DA disagreed.

“The easy accessibility of the loaded gun and the impairment of the occupants presented a tactical challenge to the officers to retrieve the weapon without risking death or great bodily injury to themselves or the vehicle’s occupants, as well as to effectuate an arrest and possibly render medical aid,” the report said.

It took the DA’s office — spanning the administrations of Jackie Lacey and Gascón —more than six years to reach a conclusion in the case.

The DA’s report said the investigative file prosecutors received from the Inglewood Police Department was “incomplete.” Inglewood police investigated their own officers’ shootings at the time.

The report said the DA’s office essentially had to reinvestigate the shooting. It’s a huge challenge to begin investigating any shooting months after it happened.

Gascón entered office promising to scrutinize police shootingsmore closely than his predecessors, and he has. The DA filed criminal charges against three officers for on-duty shootings in his first 15 months in office; only one officer faced charges in the previous nearly two decades.

The DA’s report on the Inglewood case noted that legislative changes enacted in 2020 have made the totality of the circumstances surrounding an officer shooting relevant to the criminal inquiry. But the change did not apply to this shooting because it occurred before the law’s enactment.

The five former officers — Sean Reidy, Richard Parcella, Michael Jaen, Andrew Cohen and Jason Cantrell — filed a lawsuit against the city of Inglewood claiming racial discrimination. They claim they were discriminated against and fired because they're white. They say they were following the orders of two more experienced sergeants at the scene, and that the sergeants — both of whom are Latino — were not fired.

What questions or concerns do you have about civics and democracy in Southern California?
Frank Stoltze explores who has power and how they use it at a time when our democratic systems have been under threat.