Videos from an officer-involved shooting that left one man dead in Boyle Heights in 2016 were released last week as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the city over excessive use of force.
Attorneys for the family of Omar González, 36, shared the body camera footage, which shows that he was shot following a brief pursuit by Los Angeles Police Department officers. They argued that the video proves González did not have a gun in his hand at the time he was killed — disputing the findings of the city’s Police Commission report, which said that officer Eden Medina pulled the trigger after González reached for a firearm.
The video, which contains very graphic details, can be seen here:
“It shows that the officer is just out of control,” said Humberto Guízar, an attorney for the González family.
Josh Rubenstein, a spokesman for the LAPD, said the Police Commission found Medina’s actions were within policy, but declined to comment further due to the pending litigation.
Medina fatally shot 14-year-old Jesse Romero in Boyle Heights 12 days after shooting González, but Los Angeles County prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against him. Guízar said the González video would not be allowed as evidence in the civil case on behalf of the Romero family, which goes to trial next week.
While the LAPD initially reported that officers pursued González after suspecting that he was riding in a stolen car, the Police Commission report said they intended to conduct a traffic stop. According to the report, González was in the passenger seat of a car on July 28, 2016 when the driver failed to show a turn signal, drawing officers’ attention. When they saw he was not wearing a seat belt, they pursued the vehicle, which eventually pulled into a cul-de-sac — allowing González to jump out and run into a neighboring driveway, where he was stopped by several people.
In the video, which contains clips from multiple body cameras, officers pursue González and push him onto a ledge below a fence, where there is a brief struggle. An officer yells, “Gun, gun!” and González is shot twice from behind at close range. Though the report stated that officers saw González gripping a gun in his left hand and believed he intended to shoot them, Guízar said the video showed he was unarmed and did not pose a threat.
“If both of his arms are on the ledge and the gun is on the other side of a fence, it would clearly show that he did not have a gun in his hands when they shot him,” Guízar said. “So why is a belief good enough? A belief is not good enough to shoot somebody in the back and kill them.”
The body camera footage shows that after the shooting, an officer picked up a gun from behind the fence with his bare hands and stored it in the trunk of an LAPD cruiser — proof of evidence tampering, according to Guízar.
“They don’t do what they’re supposed to do,” Guízar said. “They’re supposed to leave the physical evidence so investigators can come and do a forensic investigation.”
Officers in the LAPD’s Hollenbeck Division, which oversees various Eastside neighborhoods, including Boyle Heights, shot six people in 2016, the most out of any division that year. The department has developed several new policies since the shootings of González and Romero, including a requirement that officers involved in fatal shootings wait at least two weeks before returning to duty.
Luis Carillo, another attorney for the González family, praised another rule that requires the LAPD to release footage from most incidents involving use of force or deaths that occur in police custody within 45 days — but he said other aspects of the officers’ conduct were unprofessional. At one point in the video, an officer can be heard saying, “Choke him out, dude,” while González is on the ground moaning in pain.
“What kind of message does this send to the community that the officers are not sympathetic to a person who is dying in front of them?” Carillo said.
Carillo said he hopes the civil lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, which is currently scheduled for trial in March, will bring some measure of relief to Gonzaáez’s family, including his two children.
“No amount of money in this world could bring back their father, but it would be some recognition, some justice if the jury holds the officer and the city responsible for what happened,” Carillo said. “It would be part of the healing process, part of the closure. That’s what the family wants – they want justice.”
Photo above: capture from LAPD released video.