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Criminal Justice

Latest Indictments Bring To 15 The Number Of Officers Charged For Shootings, Deaths Under DA Gascón

George Gascón, a light-skinned Latino man with white hair, looks towards the distance.
DA George Gascón discussing the Torrance case at Monday's news conference.
(Frank Stoltze/LAist)
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Two Torrance police officers have been charged with voluntary manslaughter in the 2018 fatal shooting of Christopher Mitchell, according to an indictment unsealed Monday. This brings to 15 the number of on-duty law enforcement officers accused of crimes in connection with shootings or in-custody deaths under Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón — far more than his predecessors.

The DA has been in office two-and-a-half years. In the previous two decades, only two officers were charged. One pleaded guilty. The other was acquitted. None of the 15 cases brought by Gascón have yet been adjudicated.

The Torrance case stands out: Former DA Jackie Lacey had decided the shooting was legally justified. During his campaign against her, Gascón promised to reconsider that decision.

The DA said the indictment was sought by his independent special prosecutor, Lawrence Middleton, and that the reasoning behind the charges will become clear when the grand jury transcripts are released in 10 days.

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The officers, Matthew Concannon and Anthony Chavez, pleaded not guilty Monday and bail was set for each of them at $100,000, according to Gascón's office.

The incident unfolded after Concannon and Chavez pulled over Mitchell, 23, for allegedly driving a stolen car. In declining to charge them, Lacey’s office said Mitchell would not get out of the car and the officers opened fire after Concannon saw Mitchell move his hands toward a gun in his lap. It was an air rifle.

In the previous analysis by Lacey’s office, the officers reasonably feared for their lives in part because “the tattoos on Mitchell’s face made Chavez wary that Mitchell was a gang member.” It also cited Mitchell’s “failure to follow the officers’ directions, his continued efforts to conceal the object in his lap, the physical appearance of the object, and the movement of his hands toward the object.”

“It was reasonable for the officers to believe the object was a firearm and to respond with deadly force,” the previous analysis stated. Concannon fired once, Chavez twice.

That analysis will be one of the challenges faced by Gascón in prosecuting the case.

Mitchell's mother Sherlyn Haynes said the charges were a long time coming.

“They murdered my son within 15 seconds," she told the news conference. "Didn’t give him no chance. No chance at all.”

The Mitchell shooting was one of four police shootings the DA had asked Middleton to review. In each case, Lacey had concluded that the officers' actions were lawful, including the fatal shooting of Brendan Glenn by the LAPD, Ricardo Diaz Zeferino by Gardena police, and Hector Morejon by Long Beach police officers. All were unarmed.

A former federal prosecutor, Middleton was on the team that won the convictions of two LAPD officers for violating Rodney King’s constitutional rights when they beat him in 1991.

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More charges, but no charges in some cases

Last week, Gascón announced assault charges against two former Whittier city police detectives who shot an unarmed man in 2020, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

“The decision by these two detectives to use deadly force on someone who was unarmed and fleeing is inexcusable,” the DA said in a statement.

Last month, Gascón charged a California Highway Patrol sergeant, six CHP officers and a nurse with involuntary manslaughter in the 2020 death of a man they were attempting to draw blood from. The man — detained under suspicion of DUI — can be heard on videotape screaming “I can’t breathe” at least eight times as officers continue to forcibly restrain him.

Gascón has decided against filing criminal charges against police in two other controversial shootings.

Gascón will not file charges against a sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot Andres Guardado in 2020: “Given the available evidence, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt” Deputy Miguel Vega’s actions “were not because he honestly and reasonably feared for his life at the time he fired his pistol.”

The DA acknowledged Vega had credibility problems. Federal prosecutors have secured an indictment against Vega and his partner Christopher Hernandez in another case involving witness tampering and the alleged false imprisonment of a skateboarder two months before the Guardado shooting. Guardado was 18-years-old.

Gascón also said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot Anthony Weber, who was 16-years-old. Deputy Gregory Van Hoesen claimed Weber had a gun as he was fleeing from Van Hoesen and his partner, but none was ever found at the scene. One similar to the one described by the deputy was later recovered elsewhere.

In an unusually long 50-page declination letter, the DA’s office wrote:

“Whether Anthony W. intended to shoot and disable Van Hoesen or delay his pursuit by means of a threatening gesture, or toss the handgun, is not relevant.” It went on: “If Anthony W. did look back and then immediately reach toward his waistband, it would have been reasonable for Van Hoesen to believe Anthony W. intended to do grievous harm.”

Given those circumstances, “Van Hoesen’s decision to employ lethal force would be justified as a lawful act in self-defense,” the letter said.

This story will be updated.

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