Mys­tery still clouds po­lice shoot­ing in In­gle­wood

A year af­ter cou­ple were killed, of­fi­cers in­volved are off the force, but the city is slow to re­lease de­tails.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By An­gel Jen­nings, Matt Hamil­ton and Richard Win­ton

Fif­teen months have passed since five In­gle­wood po­lice of­fi­cers un­leashed a bar­rage of bul­lets at a Chevy sedan stopped at a busy in­ter­sec­tion, killing the man and woman in­side.

De­spite protests, a civil law­suit and two sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tions, In­gle­wood of­fi­cials have re­leased few de­tails about how Kisha Michael and Mar­quin­tan Sandlin were shot dead.

The city an­nounced this week that the five of­fi­cers in­volved in the shoot­ing were no longer on the force and that an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion had been com­pleted. Still, Mayor James T. Butts Jr. and Po­lice Chief Mark Fron­terotta have balked at re­leas­ing a de­tailed ac­count of the Feb. 21, 2016, in­ci­dent.

Butts said he would con­sider pro­vid­ing more in­for­ma­tion af­ter the Los An­ge­les County dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice con­cludes its re­view of the shoot­ing.

The re­sponse high­lights a balancing act faced by many pub­lic agen­cies: how to keep the pub­lic in­formed while car­ry­ing out a duty to con­duct a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The ques­tion has taken on new sig­nif­i­cance at a time of height­ened scru­tiny of how law en­force­ment uses deadly force. Po­lice de­part­ments vary in how much in­for­ma­tion they re­lease about use-of-force in­ci­dents, but re­cently, many agen­cies have been striv­ing to be more trans­par­ent, act­ing swiftly in cases that stoke con­tro­versy.

In De­cem­ber 2015, video showed L.A. County sher­iff ’s deputies fa­tally shoot­ing a man in Lyn­wood. At a news con­fer­ence the next day, the de­part­ment re­leased videos and photos show­ing the man was hold­ing a gun.

To quell protests, Fresno’s po­lice chief re­leased body cam­era video of of­fi­cers fa­tally shoot­ing a 19year-old man. El Ca­jon po­lice took a sim­i­lar step af­ter a con­tro­ver­sial shoot­ing of a black man.

Law en­force­ment ex­perts said In­gle­wood’s ap­proach is be­com­ing less com­mon.

“When you don’t pro­vide much in­for­ma­tion about a shoot­ing, the pub­lic can lose trust, and cer­tain mem­bers of the pub­lic will be­gin to be­lieve the worst pos­si­ble sce­nario,” said Seth Stoughton, a Univer­sity of South Car-

olina law pro­fes­sor and for­mer Florida po­lice of­fi­cer.

For months, In­gle­wood of­fi­cials re­fused to re­lease the names of the of­fi­cers in­volved in the shoot­ing, do­ing so only af­ter a pub­lic records re­quest from The Times. They were iden­ti­fied as Michael Jaen, Richard Par­cella, Ja­son Cantrell, Sean Reidy and An­drew Co­hen. All but one of the of­fi­cers had been with the de­part­ment for two years or less.

At­tor­neys for the of­fi­cers could not be reached for com­ment.

Some key de­tails re­main undis­closed. Po­lice still have not ex­plained the of­fi­cers’ rea­sons for fir­ing. The city has noted the pres­ence of a loaded gun but did not ex­plain whether ei­ther per­son reached for or touched the weapon. And it’s un­clear if the car ever drove to­ward an of­fi­cer — a po­ten­tial ex­pla­na­tion for the deadly shoot­ing.

Ques­tions about trans­parency are noth­ing new for the In­gle­wood Po­lice De­part­ment, and the city has faced calls to re­form its over­sight of of­fi­cers. In 2008, af­ter po­lice in a span of four months fa­tally shot four men — three of whom were un­armed — the U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice launched a civil rights probe. Fed­eral of­fi­cials iden­ti­fied sig­nif­i­cant flaws in how In­gle­wood po­lice over­saw use-of-force in­ci­dents and in­ves­ti­gated com­plaints against of­fi­cers.

“It is un­heard of for the de­part­ment not to dis­close some ex­pla­na­tion of their of­fi­cers’ ac­tions,” said Ed Obayashi, a deputy and le­gal ad­vi­sor with the Plumas County Sher­iff’s De­part­ment. “How can it be they re­ally can­not say any­thing?”

The shoot­ing was a tragedy, said Jim Vaughan, vice chair­man of the In­gle­wood Cit­i­zen Po­lice Over­sight Com­mis­sion. But he urged the com­mu­nity to con­sider the of­fi­cers’ per­spec­tive.

“Those of­fi­cers put that uni­form on and it’s like they put a tar­get on them,” Vaughan said. “I un­der­stand that two peo­ple are killed and seven kids are with­out par­ents, but why did they have a gun in the car?”

Vaughan said he hoped that lin­ger­ing ques­tions would be an­swered in a re­port stem­ming from the in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but he was un­cer­tain how much of the re­port would be made pub­lic.

In a brief po­lice state­ment put out in the af­ter­math of the shoot­ing, In­gle­wood said uni­formed of­fi­cers re­sponded to a call at 3:11 a.m. and ar­rived at the ve­hi­cle in the mid­dle of the street at Manch­ester Boule­vard and In­gle­wood Av­enue.

The of­fi­cers saw a woman “in pos­ses­sion of a firearm.” The po­lice took cover, or­dered the cou­ple out of the car, and the of­fi­cers shot them, ac­cord­ing to the state­ment.

Records re­viewed by The Times, in­clud­ing au­topsy re­ports and Los An­ge­les County Fire De­part­ment logs, pro­vide more in­sight into how the en­counter ap­par­ently un­folded.

A caller in­formed fire of­fi­cials that a per­son was “slumped over the wheel of the car” at the in­ter­sec­tion. Po­lice told an L.A. County coroner’s in­ves­ti­ga­tor that both Sandlin, 32, and Michael, 31, were “un­con­scious” when of­fi­cers ar­rived. Tox­i­col­ogy re­ports later re­vealed Michael’s blood-al­co­hol level was more than twice the le­gal limit for driv­ing. Sandlin, who was be­hind the wheel, was also legally in­tox­i­cated, ac­cord­ing to the re­ports.

Mo­ments af­ter ar­riv­ing, of­fi­cers spot­ted a 9-mil­lime­ter hand­gun in Michael’s lap, and the car was bar­ri­caded by po­lice ve­hi­cles, ac­cord­ing to the au­topsy re­port. At 3:15 a.m., an “unknown ex­change” oc­curred be­tween the cou­ple and In­gle­wood po­lice.

Butts con­firmed this week that the of­fi­cers used two po­lice cars to hem in the cou­ple’s sedan.

“At some point, the driver at­tempted to drive away, but was pinned by the po­lice ve­hi­cles,” Butts said in an email this week. “Some­time there­after, the [of­fi­cer-in­volved shoot­ing] oc­curred.”

At 3:39 a.m., po­lice told paramedics they were wait­ing for an ar­mored ve­hi­cle to ar­rive at the scene. It’s un­clear when or if the ar­mored ve­hi­cle ar­rived.

Roughly an hour af­ter the in­ci­dent be­gan, at 4:11 a.m., po­lice told fire of­fi­cials that two peo­ple had gun­shot wounds. Al­most si­mul­ta­ne­ously, Michael was pro­nounced dead at the scene by po­lice, ac­cord­ing to fire records.

It would take four more min­utes be­fore paramedics were cleared to go to the scene.

Sandlin was taken to a hos­pi­tal, where he was pro­nounced dead at 4:38 a.m., ac­cord­ing to his au­topsy.

Mil­ton Grimes, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing Michael’s fam­ily, said the city has pro­vided no ev­i­dence that would jus­tify the of­fi­cers’ use of deadly force. He viewed the de­par­ture of the of­fi­cers as an “ad­mis­sion” that they vi­o­lated de­part­ment policy. But many ques­tions re­main unan­swered.

“I can­not set­tle this case un­til I can tell this mother how and why her daugh­ter was shot 13 times,” Grimes said.

‘I can­not set­tle this case un­til I can tell this mother how and why her daugh­ter was shot 13 times.’ — Mil­ton Grimes, at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing fam­ily of Kisha Michael, who was killed by In­gle­wood po­lice last year

Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

KYLIA FIELDS, 3, stands next to a poster of her cousin at a rally in Fe­bru­ary, a year af­ter Mar­quin­tan Sandlin and Kisha Michael were killed by In­gle­wood po­lice. Key de­tails about the shoot­ing are still undis­closed.

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