Un­easy wait for an­swers

Fam­ily of a man shot by po­lice says he’s still un­con­scious af­ter Fri­day’s in­ci­dent on Los Feliz Boule­vard.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Kate Mather and Brit­tny Me­jia

An un­armed man who was shot by Los An­ge­les po­lice af­ter he al­legedly pointed a towel- cov­ered hand in their di­rec­tion typ­i­cally walked with a rag to wipe away sweat, his son said.

The of­fi­cers thought the man, iden­ti­fied Mon­day as Wal­ter Wil­liam DeLeon, 48, was hold­ing a gun un­der the gray towel when he pointed his hands at them and moved to­ward them “ag­gres­sively,” LAPD of­fi­cials said. He re­mained in crit­i­cal con­di­tion Mon­day evening.

When reached by phone, DeLeon’s 18- year- old son said he was shocked to learn that his fa­ther had been shot by po­lice.

“At f irst, I thought it was like a ran­dom per­son that did it,” Wil­liam DeLeon said. “Then I found out it was the cops. I didn’t un­der­stand why, be­cause I know my dad wouldn’t do any­thing to pro­voke it.”

Wal­ter DeLeon, a fa­ther of two, worked in con­struc­tion, his son said. His fam­ily spent part of the day at his bed­side.

“He still hasn’t wo­ken up yet,” Wil­liam DeLeon said.

The younger DeLeon de­clined to say more, say­ing that his fam­ily was get­ting le­gal ad­vice.

LAPD of­fi­cials said two of­fi­cers were stopped in traf­fic along a con­gested sec­tion of Los Feliz Boule­vard on Fri­day evening when

DeLeon ap­proached their pa­trol car. The of­fi­cers got out of their car and the man drew his hands to­gether and pointed at them, po­lice said.

Fear­ing that DeLeon had a gun, po­lice said, the of­fi­cers or­dered him to drop the weapon. When he didn’t re­spond, one of­fi­cer opened fire . No gun was found. LAPD Cmdr. An­drew Smith cau­tioned Mon­day that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the shoot­ing near Tica Drive was still in its early stages. In­ves­ti­ga­tors are try­ing to de­ter­mine why DeLeon ap­proached the of­fi­cers, he said, as there was no dis­abled car nearby or in­jury to his towel- wrapped hand that would in­di­cate he needed help.

“He didn’t ap­pear to be f lag­ging down the of­fi­cers be­cause of some sort of emer­gency,” Smith said.

Smith said the LAPD had iden­ti­fied wit­nesses who saw the shoot­ing. He de­clined to say what those wit­nesses told in­ves­ti­ga­tors, but said they were “pretty clear about what they saw.”

“It’s way too early to spec­u­late on dif­fer­ent as­pects or dif­fer­ent pos­si­bil­i­ties with any kind of ac­cu­racy,” he said.

The shoot­ing oc­curred about 6: 30 p. m. Fri­day along an apart­ment- dot­ted stretch of Los Feliz Boule­vard that is pop­u­lar among jog­gers and peo­ple walk­ing their dogs. Grif­fith Park is a few blocks away. A stretch of bou­tiques and restau­rants is also within walk­ing dis­tance.

Michael Cos­cia, who has lived in the neigh­bor­hood for 11 years, was read­ing on his couch when he heard three gun­shots. Cos­cia said he ran to his bath­room win­dow and peered out­side, see­ing two of­fi­cers across the street with their guns drawn.

A man was ly­ing face­down on the grass, Cos­cia said, his head cov­ered in blood. He watched as the off icers hol­stered their guns, f lipped the man over and hand­cuffed him. Po­lice cars and he­li­copters quickly swarmed the area.

Natalie Gomez was watch­ing with binoc­u­lars from the win­dow of her apart­ment across the street.

“This poor guy was face­down, hand­cuffed, blood just gush­ing,” she said.

Many res­i­dents said they still had ques­tions about what hap­pened, in­clud­ing why po­lice shot a man who didn’t have a gun.

“I got up­set af­ter I found out he was un­armed,” Cos­cia said.

Steve Soboroff, the pres­i­dent of the civil­ian Po­lice Com­mis­sion that over­sees the LAPD, urged the public to con­sider the of­fi­cers’ per­spec­tive of the events lead­ing up to the shoot­ing.

“Try and put your­self in the of­fi­cers’ shoes. This is about what hap­pened preshoot­ing, not af­ter the shoot­ing,” he said. “Let’s find out the facts, just like ev­ery other shoot­ing.”

Charles “Sid” Heal, a re­tired Los An­ge­les County sher­iff ’ s com­man­der, said it can be dif­fi­cult for the public to un­der­stand an of­fi­cer’s per­spec­tive dur­ing such in­ci­dents. Po­lice shoot­ings usu­ally un­fold within sec- onds, he said. The stakes are life or death, he said, and less- lethal op­tions such as a Taser are of­ten no match for some­one with a gun.

As a re­sult, Heal said, mis­takes are some­times made. More train­ing can help, he added, but won’t fully erad­i­cate such shoot­ings be­cause each presents its own unique set of cir­cum­stances that po­lice can’t fully pre­pare for.

“It will im­prove our re­sponse, but it will not elim­i­nate these,” he said.

The shoot­ing marked the 19th time Los An­ge­les po­lice of­fi­cers shot some­one this year, ac­cord­ing to depart­ment fig­ures. Of those, eight have been fa­tal.

The two of­fi­cers in­volved have been re­moved from the field un­til LAPD Chief Char­lie Beck and other com­mand staff re­ceive an ini­tial up­date on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which is called a 72- hour brief­ing.

The of­fi­cers’ names have not been re­leased. They were as­signed to Grif­fith Park as part of the LAPD’s de­tail that pro­vides se­cu­rity to city- owned prop­er­ties, Smith said.

The shoot­ing was one of two by LAPD of­fi­cers Fri­day. Ear­lier in the day, of­fi­cers wounded an as­sault sus­pect who led them on a two- hour chase that ended in El Monte. Po­lice said that man got out of his ve­hi­cle cov­ered in a blan­ket. At some point, po­lice said, the man dropped the blan­ket and pointed a gun at the of­fi­cers, prompt­ing them to open fire.

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

A JOG­GER passes the spot where off icers shot an un­armed man. Of­fi­cers said his hand was cov­ered with a towel and he ap­proached their car “ag­gres­sively.”

Pho­tog r aphs by Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

A PIECE of tape and a ruler, left, mark the lo­ca­tion of a bullet hole through a garage door on the 4000 block of Los Feliz Boule­vard where off icers shot Wal­ter Wil­liam DeLeon. At right, a pedes­trian passes the scene of the shoot­ing, which oc­curred Fri­day, when DeLeon ap­proached an LAPD car stopped in traff ic.

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