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Key Questions About Tactics Used By LA Deputies Who Shot And Killed Dijon Kizzee

Protestors march through Westmont in a demonstration against the killing of Dijon Kizzee. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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Questions are being raised about the tactics used by two sheriff's deputies who fatally shot an African American man in South L.A. on Monday afternoon. The killing has sparked angry protests amid national outrage over the police killings of other Black men and women in the country.

Here's what we know about the shooting:

  • Two deputies were on patrol in the Westmont neighborhood tucked near the intersection of the 110 and 105 freeways around 3:15 p.m.
  • The department says the deputies tried to stop Dijon Kizzee, 29, for committing a traffic violation on his bike. Kizzee allegedly dropped the bike and ran about a block before deputies caught up with him in the 1200 block of West 109th Place.
  • Kizzee allegedly punched one deputy and, as they grappled, a gun fell out of his clothing, according to a statement from the department. Deputies opened fired when Kizzee "made a motion" toward the gun, the statement said.
  • Security video shows Kizzee struggling with one deputy and then attempting to move away as both deputies repeatedly shoot at him -- even after he falls to the ground.

Our Public Safety Correspondent Frank Stoltze spoke with A Martínez, who hosts our newsroom's local news and culture show Take Two on 89.3 KPCC, about the shooting:

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A Martínez: So what are the concerns about the deputies' tactics?

Frank Stoltze: The first concern is with the stop itself. The department has not said what part of the vehicle code Kizzee violated that prompted the stop. The Kizzee family attorney Ben Crump -- who also represents the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake -- says Kizzee was profiled.

"Dijon Kizzee is stopped for riding a bicycle while Black," Crump said. "And he pays with his life."

It's not unfathomable that this was a pretext stop. That's when police stop someone for a minor crime in order to investigate the person for what they suspect could be a more serious crime. A lot of cops would say this was a good stop.

But pretext stops are hugely controversial -- and have been condemned by the left and many on the right as often an infringement on people's rights.

The Supreme Court's approval of pretext stops, says Johnathan Blanks at the Cato Institute, has provided "virtual carte blanche for police to stop motorists due to innumerable traffic laws -- many of which are vague and subjective - that most drivers violate every time they get behind the wheel."

AM: That's the stop. What about other concerns about the deputies' decision to shoot Kizzee?

FS: One question is what happened after a gun allegedly fell from Kizzee's clothing. The department says it was on the ground, and that Kizzee "made a motion" toward it. That's unusual language -- police usually talk about a suspect reaching for a weapon.

In any case, [a] gun was apparently not in Kizzee's hands when deputies opened fire. That's prompted Black Lives Matter leader Melina Abdullah to say deputies shot and killed an unarmed man. "At the time they shot, he had already dropped the gun," Abdullah said. "According to their own story, he did not have a gun when they killed him."

AM: What is the protocol? And why don't police ever shoot just to stop someone from getting away -- like just in the leg -- as opposed to shooting a suspect in a way that's lethal?

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FS: Once a law enforcement officer decides to use deadly force, they shoot to kill. That's how they are trained.

And they are trained to shoot for the middle of a suspect's body because it's the biggest target. Most police officers are average shots -- they are not marksmen who could aim for a leg or shoot a gun out of the hand of a suspect.

As for the number of shots fired here, videos suggest at least 15 shots were fired by the two deputies. That seems increasingly common in the modern age with police typically carrying semi-automatic handguns that have 15 bullets instead of the old revolver that had six bullets.

Kizzee family attorney Dale Galipo laments their use of force: "You have to de-escalate, you have to give warnings, you're supposed to show a reverence for human life," he said.

It's worth noting the shooting has a striking similarity to the [June] shooting a few miles away of a Latino man by sheriff's deputies.

According to the sheriff's department, a deputy fatally shot Andrés Guardado, 18, after he -- like Kizzee -- allegedly reached for a gun that was on the ground. The coroner found Guardado was shot five times in the back.

AM: What do the deputies' body cams show?

FS: Nothing. The sheriff's department is the largest law enforcement agency in the country without body cams, which, of course, have provided crucial information in police shootings across the country.

After years of delay, the sheriff's department finally begins equipping deputies at five stations in October. It's expected to take a year and a half to equip 5,000 patrol deputies.



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