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Criminal Justice

LAPD Chief Moore Says Mental Health Team Should Have Been Sent To Scene Where Police Fatally Shot 22-Year-Old

A screen shot from the YouTube upload of LAPD body-worn camera video of the fatal Margarito López shooting. In the foreground, an LAPD officer can be seen standing behind his car and pointing a firearm at López. López sits on the bottom step of an entryway staircase outside of a home. There is a spotlight pointed on López. It is dusk.
A screenshot from LAPD officer body-worn camera video uploaded to YouTube.
(LAPD)
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LAPD Chief Michel Moore told KPCC Wednesday that the department should have dispatched a team from its Mental Evaluation Unit when officers responded to an emergency call last month that resulted in the fatal police shooting of 22-year-old Margarito López.

López’s family told Univision last month that he had a mental disability and needed psychological care.

The Mental Evaluation Unit's two-person teams — made up of a mental health worker from the L.A. County Department of Mental Health and an armed LAPD officer — try to de-escalate mental health crises and avert bad outcomes.

“[Those resources] should have been dispatched because [López] had an edged weapon and those protocols should have dispatched such a resource,” said Moore, speaking with Larry Mantle on KPCC’s AirTalk. “Whether it would have resulted in a different outcome we’ll never know but certainly that’s what we expect is that we get those resources there at the earliest opportunity.”

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Moore called López's death “a tragic loss of life.”

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The LAPD has released body-worn camera footage of the Dec. 18 incident. (Warning: the linked video is disturbing and shows deadly acts of violence.)

The video, posted to YouTube on Friday afternoon, includes an initial emergency call as well as the moments leading up to López’s death.

“I’m calling because I think my brother is going to commit suicide,” the caller said, adding that López was armed with a knife.

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What’s On The Video

When officers arrived at dusk at the South L.A. residence, López was sitting on the steps leading to the entry of the home.

Almost immediately, an officer pointed a spotlight at López (LAPD said it was around 7 p.m. when officers arrived and daylight was fading) and began yelling commands at him in English and Spanish, including: “Drop the knife!” and “Just throw it to the ground. You don’t have to do this!”

After roughly two minutes of officers repeatedly shouting commands at López, he stands and appears to lift the knife to his neck. According to the department, an officer fires a foam round at López, who then advances to the bottom step of the staircase and sits down. The department considers the foam projectiles to be “less-lethal.”

Officers continue to shout commands and point their firearms at López who, after several minutes of sitting silently, stands up and takes a few steps in the direction of officers. According to a statement from LAPD, officers fire a second foam projectile at López, followed immediately by live rounds.

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Within less than 10 minutes of officers arriving on scene, López was fatally wounded.

LAPD said in a statement that Newton Division officers Jose Zavala and Julio Quintanilla had responded to the scene, but it’s not clear who fired the deadly rounds. The department has not responded to an LAist email asking if the officers are still on duty. As with all fatal LAPD shootings, the department launched an internal investigation, which will be reviewed by the Board of Police Commissioners and the Office of the Inspector General.

‘Profound Tactical Mistakes’ 

The shooting appears to be the latest example of a bad outcome resulting from law enforcement involvement in a mental health crisis.

After viewing the body-worn camera video, use-of-force expert Timothy Williams said officers did the right thing in giving López clear commands.

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But, Williams added, “In my opinion, that lethal force was excessive and should not have been used.”

“They should have initiated more less-lethal [rounds] and there should have been more supervisory control,” said Williams, who served nearly 30 years with the LAPD.

Jonathan Smith, who spent five years as the chief of the special litigation section at the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, also questioned officers’ actions.

“They make a number of profound tactical mistakes,” said Smith, who is executive director of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

“One is, they shine bright lights on him, they have this overwhelming force... rather than slow things down and talk to him, it’s a constant barrage of people yelling commands at him,” Smith said. Putting additional pressure on someone who is in crisis is “a very dangerous thing to do,” he added.

Smith found it concerning that there appeared to be people inside the building behind López when officers opened fire.

Smith also questioned why there didn’t seem to be any mental health professionals on scene.

LAPD spokesperson Drake Madison said in an email that “the incident escalated quickly, and a Mental Evaluation Unit was not at scene” before the shooting took place.

According to the department, in 2021, of the 37 LAPD shootings, “more than half... involved individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.” In a new LAPD report on crime last year, the department said mental health crises “continue to challenge” officers, adding that in initial assessments of individual shootings, “the Department has found the need for further training in deescalation techniques, including a greater reliance on less-lethal options.”

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