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Criminal Justice

The 'Extraordinarily Long' Wait For LA DA's Decision On Controversial 2016 Police Killing Of Couple On A Date

A person holds up a photograph of Kisha Michael and Marquintan Sandlin, who were fatally shot by Inglewood police officers in 2016.
An activist holds up a picture of Kisha Michael, left, and Marquintan Sandlin, who were fatally shot by Inglewood police in 2016.
(Frank Stoltze
/
LAist)
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More than four years. That's how long the L.A. District Attorney’s office has been reviewing the controversial 2016 killing of a Black couple by Inglewood police.

4:51
Listen: 'An Extraordinarily Long Time.' A Look At Why A Controversial Inglewood Police Shooting Is Still With The DA

“I would say that’s extraordinarily long and not typical,” said former L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley, who served as DA from 2000-2012.

“That's a very, very long time,” said Vern Pierson, president of the California District Attorneys Association.

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The circumstances of the shooting were troubling from the start. On the night of Feb. 21, 2016, five white officers fired their weapons at Kisha Michael and Marquintan Sandlin after first finding the couple unconscious in a car. All five officers were later fired. The city of Inglewood paid a total of $8.6 million — one of the largest such payouts in the city’s history — to settle lawsuits by Sandlin’s and Michael’s families.

The DA’s office, which reviews all police shootings in L.A. County, received the case in May 2017.

It has yet to render a verdict on the officers’ conduct.

We reviewed 32 recent cases of officer shootings — fatal and non-fatal —and found on average the L.A. DA’s office announced a decision just over two years from the time of the incident.

A Sister’s Agonizing Wait

The wait has been agonizing for Trisha Shanklin, Kisha Michael’s twin sister. Shanklin wants the officers charged with a crime — like the cop who murdered George Floyd.

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“It kind of gave me hope,” Shanklin said of the conviction of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. “It also shows me they can be held accountable for their actions.”

The election last fall of DA George Gascón gave her more hope. Gascón has promised to scrutinize police shootings more closely than his predecessors. Out of more than 900 police shootings since 2000, prosecutors have only filed charges in two cases. (One case against an L.A. Sheriff’s deputy is yet to go to trial.)

"I would say that's extraordinarily long and not typical."
— Former L.A. DA Steve Cooley, commenting on the length of the DA office's review of the case.

The new DA invited Shanklin and others who have had loved ones shot by police to meet with him earlier this year. Shanklin feels Gascón would be reneging on a promise if he decided against filing charges against the officers who killed her sister.

“I would really, really be hurt,” she said. “I would protest against him — like, come on, dude.”

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A Date Goes Horribly Wrong

Michael, 31, and Sandlin, 32, were on a date when they were shot, according to Shanklin, who said they'd been out together before.

He was the father of four girls. She was the mother of three boys. Shanklin and her mother are now raising the boys.

Inglewood police found Michael and Sandlin passed out or asleep in a Chevy Malibu on Manchester Boulevard just after 3 a.m., according to a confidential three-page “Crime Report” we obtained in 2017. That memo said a pedestrian had called attention to the vehicle.

According to the report, officers backed off after they determined that Michael had a handgun in her lap. It describes how police parked four patrol cars right next to the Malibu to box it in, and then tried using flashing lights, an air horn and blaring sirens to rouse the two, without success. Bumping the Malibu with a patrol car and an armored vehicle also didn’t work, according to the report.

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When the couple finally awoke, Sandlin tried to drive away but was boxed in, according to attorney Milton Grimes, who represents the Michael family. He said the police ordered Sandlin to get out of the car first. They shot him twice and he died later at a hospital.

The officers then ordered Michael out of the car, Grimes said. She was struck 13 times and died at the scene.

The five officers had fired a total of 20 rounds.

‘An Officer Involved Shooting Then Occurred’

To this day, the Inglewood Police Department has not publicly said what precipitated the shooting — it never said Sandlin or Michael was holding the gun, reaching for it, or looked like they were reaching for it.

Unlike the LAPD and Sheriff’s Department, which usually provide a reason for a shooting, the Inglewood department only said in a statement that “an officer involved shooting then occurred.”

The city has a history of being less than fully transparent.

During the final weeks of 2018, the city council granted Police Chief Mark Fronterotta’s request for permission to destroy more than 100 records of police shootings and misconduct related to lying and sexual assault. The records would have been opened to the public under a new state law, SB 1421, that took effect Jan. 1, 2019.

In addition, Inglewood has released no public records related to uses of force for the past five years. It has reported 10 serious uses of force over that period — although it is not required to identify the cases — to the California attorney general, according to The California Reporting Project, a statewide coalition of 40 newsrooms. LAist is a founding member of that coalition.

"It's entirely possible that the initial investigation was botched. It is a very valid concern."
— Vern Pierson, president of the California District Attorneys Association.

After the officers were fired, they sued the city for racial discrimination. Jason Cantrell, Andrew Cohen, Michael Jaen, Richard Parcella, and Sean Reidy said they were following orders from two Latino sergeants, who kept their jobs.

They also said in their lawsuit that both Michael and Sandlin reached for the gun.

Grimes, the attorney for the Michael family, notes the Inglewood Police Department has never said that.

“Do you believe that if that had been the case, that wouldn’t be the first thing out of their mouths?” he asked.

The officers's lawsuit is currently scheduled for a conference next month to set a trial date.

Why is the Review Taking So Long?

Former DA Jackie Lacey did not respond to requests for comment, so we don’t know why her office didn’t complete the review before she left office last December.

Gascón told us his office’s Justice System Integrity Division is continuing to review the shooting, but didn’t offer any more details. As part of his police accountability agenda, Gascón has hired a special prosecutor and appointed a community panel to review other shootings.

Pierson of the DA’s association said he doesn’t know why this case has dragged on for so long. But he noted that he’s seen departments — especially small ones like Inglewood’s — fail to thoroughly investigate officer shootings.

“It’s entirely possible that the initial investigation was botched,” he said. “It is a very valid concern.”

If the investigation was deficient, it would make it a lot harder for the DA to reach a decision.

In addition, this is a politically tough case. To prosecute the five officers would likely stir resentment among law enforcement. Clearing them of criminal wrongdoing would likely anger Black Lives Matter and other activists.

One consequence of the prolonged review is that some options now available to Gascón will soon be off the table. For example, the statute of limitations for filing a voluntary manslaughter charge in this case expires in a little over six months.

What questions do you have about criminal justice and public safety in Southern California?
Frank Stoltze covers a new movement for criminal justice reform at a time when not everybody shares the same vision.