LAPD Chief: Officers Were Wrong To Kill Unarmed High-Speed Chase Suspect
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck says that three LAPD officers violated department policy when they shot and killed an unarmed man who led them on a high-speed chase last year.Back in August, the L.A. City Council agreed in to pay a $5 million settlement to the family of 51-year-old National Guard veteran Brain Newt Beaird, who was shot and killed by LAPD officers on December 16, 2013.
Beck will now decide what further punishments the three officers receive, which could include further training, suspension, or firing, the L.A. Times reports. The officers were relieved of duty after the shooting and have remained that way for nearly a year now. The three officers had their names redacted in Beck's report, but were earlier identified Leonardo Ortiz—a seven-year veteran—and Michael Ayala and Armando Corral, who each had less than four years with the LAPD.
A KTLA helicopter had captured much of the chase, including the fatal shooting. It began in Cudahy, when officers suspected Beaird of drunk or reckless driving in his silver Corvette and attempted to pull him over. Beaird, who was schizophrenic and may have panicked, led police on an hour-long chase that ended when he crashed into another car at Olympic Boulevard and Los Angeles Street. When he got out of his wrecked vehicle, he put his hands up. However, the three officers mistook the sound of non-lethal beanbag rounds fired by other officers as gunfire, and opened fire on Beaird. He was shot 15 times. The three shots that investigators believe killed him hit him from behind. Beaird was unarmed.
Beck took issue with seven officers involved in the chase, who he said all tried to cram behind one car door for cover. Two officers who arrived late to the scene drove around other cars and put themselves directly in Beaird's line of sight—dangerous for an officer who thinks a suspect is armed. But the real issues, of course, came when Beaird got out of the car following the crash. One officer fired a bean bag round at Beaird's leg, which Beck said was the right response. The three officers that opened fire on him did so only after Beaird had turned away from them and was stepping up onto the sidewalk.
A friend of Beaird's later explained that Beaird was schizophrenic and most likely panicked. Beaird's brother told CBS that Beaird and called his family during the chase, scared, saying, "Why are they after me? I didn't do anything." Toxicology reports found methamphetamine and other drugs in his system.
Ortiz, Ayala and Corral all testified that they shot Beaird because they thought he had a gun. One officer, who shot at Beaird eight times, told investigators that he thought Beaird was shooting at them. During the chase, officers radioed that they saw Beaird reaching for an object in his car and that it might be a weapon. Two of the officers testified that they thought they saw Beaird reach for something in his waistband that they thought were a gun; the other said he thought Beaird was pointing something at them from beneath his clothes.
Beck, however, noted that what actually happened and the evidence were both different from the officers' accounts, and said that despite the chaos, "each officer is accountable for their own use of force."
The officers' lawyer, Larry Hanna, said his clients were trying to do the "best job they could" with a "perceived threat," and that he hopes Beck is fair when he decides how to punish them.