by Margaret Arnold
Arroyo Seco Journal
The recent LAPD shooting of a 13-year old Glassell Park boy on December 16 was the subject of a sometimes contentious community meeting the following evening at the Glassell Park Community Center.
The name of the young victim has not been released because he is a minor, and many details of the incident have not been revealed, because they are the subject of an ongoing investigation.
Commander John Sherman of the Los Angeles Police Department Central Bureau told attendees at the standing room only community meeting that at about 8 p.m. on Thursday, December 16, two LAPD Northeast Division officers were driving down Verdugo Road in Glassell Park when they saw three people in the street. As the officers approached, according to Sherman, the three people began to run, two in one direction and one in the opposite direction. The officers ordered them to stop, at which point, Sherman said, two complied and one did not. The one who was not complying with police orders produced a replica handgun—an air pistol bearing a serious resemblance in size, shape and color to the guns that police officers themselves carry. It was at that point, according to Sherman, that the youth was shot by one of the police officers.
Sherman said that all three youths were found to have been carrying replica handguns. It is believed that they had been running around the street shooting the air guns at each other.
“From every angle, this is a complete tragedy,” Sherman said.
While police cannot release the name of the victim, the LAPD is saying that he is male, about 5’7” and weighs about 200 pounds. There was a loud gasp among the crowd at the community meeting when it was revealed that the hospitalized victim is only 13 years old.
The other youths involved in the incident are 13 and 14 years old. No charges are being brought against any of the minors.
The Inspector General’s office, which responds to every police-involved shooting and use of force incident, will now investigate the case. The Inspector General operates independently of the LAPD, and both the Inspector General and LAPD leadership report to an appointed Police Commission. Upon completion of the investigation, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck will make a recommendation, and the Inspector General will make a recommendation. An ultimate decision as to how to respond to the tragedy and whether there will be any charges or remonstration against the involved officers will be made by the Police Commission.
The incident is not considered to have been gang-related in any way, although Guillermo Cespedes, who heads up Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development did attend the Glassell Park community meeting to convey the Mayor’s interest and concern. One community member questioned whether, while the young people involved are not gang members, police in a heavily gang inhabited neighborhood like the one in which the shooting took place might be quicker to use force than in other areas.
The community meeting was also attended by Juan Carlos Mendoza, Acting Consul General for the local Mexican Consulate. Mendoza said that his office is working closely with the police department during the investigation. But he also spoke bluntly about the Consulate’s willingness to make legal advise available to the victim’s family and, should it appear necessary, to bring a civil suit against the police officer involved in the shooting.
“We have excellent communication with the police department,” said Mendoza. “We’re not looking for revenge. We are looking to have the investigation reveal exactly what happened, and we will take action accordingly.”
Mendoza asked that anyone with any information on the case bring it to the Consulate’s attention.
Many questions went unanswered at the community meeting. Due to the victim’s age, state law and the fact of an ongoing investigation, the LAPD did not divulge many details of the incident, including in what manner the youth produced the fake weapon, whether he pointed it, how many feet away from the officer he was and why the officer didn’t fire in the air or aim for the boy’s foot. Sherman replied simply that “the officer felt threatened,” an incomplete answer that caused grumbling in the audience.
“Por que venimos?” said one woman near the back of the room.
“So then we’re done here,” said another woman.
Inspector General Nicole Bershon, who attended the meeting on her first visit to Northeast Los Angeles since her appointment to the position a few months ago, interjected that she would be “very concerned if we had all the answers within 24 hours because that would suggest the investigation wasn’t very thorough.”
One topic of discussion at the Glassell Park meeting was the ready availability of fake guns that look like the real thing.
A photograph of a fake gun taken from one of the youths was passed around at the meeting. It looked very much like a real handgun and was labeled “UKARMS.”
UKARMS’ web site reads, “We are Airsoft Gun Manufacturers' representative, the exclusive Chinese airsoft gun source.”
An Airsoft gun uses air to shoot BB pellets. The UKARMS web site says that Airsoft was “created for people who enjoy target practicing or indoor plinking with friends. Individuals who are not concerned about the high power hunting application of a BB or pellet gun but just wanted to have Fun.”
Toy guns that are sold in stores generally have bright orange tips so that officers can distinguish toys from the real thing, and some in attendance at the meeting said they’d experienced no trouble telling the difference. However, various community members at the meeting suggested that such toys without the bright tips can be purchased at local ice cream trucks, and that the tips of toy guns can be gone over with black marker while the tips of real guns can be painted orange. As depicted on UKARMS’ web site, what they sell is orange-tipped.
Sherman said that Chief Beck is working in support of laws that would prohibit the sale of soft air BB pistols.
LAPD Northeast Division: 213-485-2563;
Office of the Inspector General: Monday-Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at 213-482-6833 www.ci.la.ca.us/oig/isgcu1.htm;
Mexican Consulate in the United States: 213-351-6800;
LAPD Text-a-tip Service: User types “LAPD” plus their tip on their cell phone or PDA and texts it to “CRIMES” (274637). The police have no way of determining the user’s identity;
LAPD Web Tip link: www.lapdonline.org and follow the link for “Anonymous Web Tips.” The police have no way of determining the user’s identity.