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Officer's Testimony Raises More Questions on Police Shooting

June 27, 1985|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

TORRANCE — A Torrance police instructor told one of the three officers who shot and killed Bryant John Leadbeater that the knife-wielding assailant should have been disarmed without gunplay, according to testimony in a Civil Service appeals case this week.

The instructor's comment, rendered during a midnight face-to-face screaming match in the Torrance police parking lot last December, is at odds with a statement by Torrance Police Chief Donald Nash, who said in October that the three officers who shot and killed Leadbeater had "no reasonable alternative."

An investigation into the shooting by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office is expected to reinforce Nash's contention. A source close to the investigation said Tuesday that the prosecutor's office expects to clear the officers of criminal wrongdoing.

The conflicting interpretations are the latest--but far from the last--legal ripples of the police shooting, which took the life of Leadbeater, 32, of Redondo Beach on Sept. 9, 1984.

Shot 24 Times

Leadbeater, holding a 10-inch boning knife, was shot 24 times after he lunged toward Torrance Police Officer John Maley in the parking lot of the Del Amo Fashion Center, police said. Maley and two other officers emptied their Colt .45 semi-automatic pistols into Leadbeater.

In the aftermath of the Leadbeater shooting, his mother, Joan Leadbeater, sued the city; the district attorney began an investigation, the city sealed the original police reports of the incident; and Maley was fired after he pulled a knife on the instructor who criticized him. Monday's hearing, the first public hearing in this legal tangle, was part of Maley's appeal of his firing.

The testimony Monday came from Torrance Police Officer Chester M. Pitts, a witness for the city before the Torrance Civil Service Commission. The city, referring to Maley's display of his knife, is maintaining that it properly fired him March 27 for behavior that "would not be tolerated by a private citizen and is especially intolerable to a member of the police community."

Maley, 28, became involved in an argument with Officer Edward LaLonde, the Torrance baton training officer, as both returned to the police station near midnight Dec. 6 after investigating a suspected burglary.

Derogatory Remark

According to Maley's partner Pitts, Maley confronted LaLonde in the parking lot about a derogatory remark that LaLonde had made about Maley at the scene of the burglary investigation.

The two began screaming at each other, Pitts said.

LaLonde, who will be called as a witness for the city, shouted that a baton could have been used to disarm Leadbeater during the September incident, Pitts said. LaLonde added that Maley's poor police tactics had caused Leadbeater's death, according to Pitts.

As LaLonde walked away, Maley took out a jackknife, opened it and challenged LaLonde to disarm him, Pitts testified. He and another officer intervened and the incident ended, Pitts said.

Supports Leadbeater's Case

No superiors were informed about the incident at the time, Pitts said. They found out about it in February during a departmental softball game and immediately began an investigation, according to one official who asked not to be named.

Lawrence Booth, the lawyer suing the Police Department for $10 million on behalf of Leadbeater's mother, promptly hailed Pitt's testimony about LaLonde's comment as supporting the contention that Leadbeater's death was avoidable. "It dovetails tremendously with what we have been saying," said Booth.

LaLonde did not witness the Leadbeater incident.

The Leadbeater lawsuit, filed April 9, characterized the 24-shot fusillade that killed Leadbeater as "a throwback to turn-of-the-century" police practices.

Traumatized by Shooting

At the Civil Service hearing, Maley's attorney, Richard Chinee, said in an opening statement that Maley, an immigrant from Scotland, first in his class at the Sheriff's Academy and a summa cum laude graduate of California State University, Los Angeles, suffered from "cruel and vicious" rumors critical of his judgment in the Leadbeater incident.

Chinee said an emotionally vulnerable Maley, traumatized by the Leadbeater shooting, was "abandoned" by the Torrance Police Department after the shooting just when he needed support most.

He challenged the city's assertion that Maley was threatening LaLonde when he displayed the knife and challenged LaLonde to take it away from him.

The Civil Service hearing is expected to continue through mid-July.

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