The Los Angeles Police Commission ruled Tuesday that two officers used improper tactics when one of them shot to death a 73-year-old Highland Park man who allegedly lunged at him with a butter knife.
However, it said the shooting was justified once the confrontation in March turned dangerous.
The dead man, Ignacio Ramos, was described by his family as a boisterous but frail alcoholic.
The commission criticized the officers for not defusing the situation and not trying to disarm Ramos with a baton or tear gas.
"It is my firm belief that the officers' tactics were totally inappropriate and were the most important reasons why this final confrontation occurred," said the report written by Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and adopted by the panel.
However, the report said, the officer who fired the fatal blast from his shotgun had come to believe that he faced injury or death. So, it concluded, "the drawing of the weapon and use of force was in policy."
The two officers, Charles D. Hickman and Danny Chico, were given administrative disapprovals, which, after further review by Gates, could lead to disciplinary action ranging from a reprimand to dismissal. In addition, Hickman, who fired the shotgun, will be sent for retraining in the department's policies on the use of force.
The shooting shocked the mainly Latino neighborhood, leading to complaints of police brutality from Ramos' friends and relatives.
Ramos, a longtime resident of San Rafael Avenue, was allegedly threatening a group of teen-agers when police were called to break up the disturbance on Ash Street in Highland Park about 7 p.m. on March 26, police said.
When officers arrived, they ordered Ramos to drop a knife he was holding. But instead, Ramos moved toward Hickman, a 17-year veteran of the department, who fired a 12-gauge shotgun, police said. Ramos died at the scene.
Chico was standing by the patrol car and did not coordinate his actions with Hickman, the report said. Chico, a Spanish-speaking officer who had been on the force 1 1/2 years, shouted commands at Ramos in English. He should have attempted to speak to Ramos in Spanish after Ramos did not respond to the English commands, the report said. Ramos' English was limited, it said.
Gates noted that Hickman, 47, is 6 feet tall and weighs 190 pounds and that Chico, 28, is 5 feet, 11 inches and weighs 180 pounds, contrasted with Ramos' 5 feet, 3 inches and 111 pounds.
"There's no doubt that Mr. Ramos had the capability of inflicting serious or fatal injury on the officer. However, it is hard for me to understand why officer Hickman did not consider other alternatives, short of the use of lethal force, to disarm Ramos," Gates wrote. In addition, if a gun were needed, Hickman's revolver "should have been sufficient," the chief said, criticizing the use of the shotgun.
Ramos is survived by his wife, Josephina, and 10 grown children, who say they intend to sue the Police Department.
'Why the Shotgun?'
In an interview this week, Ramos' son, George Ramos, said his father was a harmless old man who did odd jobs around the neighborhood for beer and wine money.
"Everybody's concern is, why the shotgun?" said Ramos, 26. "Why not a baton? Guys on PCP go crazy and still the police apprehend them without killing them."
Ramos said his father was known in many parts of Highland Park by schoolchildren who would tease him, liquor store owners who would serve him and neighbors whose yards he would help keep clear of weeds.
His father had a longtime drinking problem, he said. "My Dad got pretty loud, sometimes cussing. He was a typical wino."
Police had taken him home countless times in patrol cars, preferring to keep him off the streets to booking him for being drunk in public, Ramos said.
Ramos said his father had been drunk and playing around with the teen-agers when police were called. "My Dad knew the cops around here," Ramos said. "They knew he wouldn't hurt anybody."