The Los Angeles County district attorney's office and a Glendale police review board are investigating the fatal shooting by police of a 23-year-old man who was clutching a television remote-control unit the officers say they thought was a pistol.
The killing Sunday of Javier Gonzales Alvarado prompted allegations by his family and friends that the shooting was unjustified because he was not dangerous and was unable to understand what police officers were saying to him in English. Alvarado, a Mexican immigrant, spoke little English.
Three policemen, whose names have not been made public, reportedly shot Alvarado at least five times.
"It doesn't make sense that they would shoot him so many times. He probably just didn't understand him," said Lydia Romero, a family friend.
An autopsy on Wednesday showed that the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds in the lungs and liver, coroner's spokesman Bill Gold said. He added that toxicological samples were taken to determine whether Alvarado was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but that those results would not be available for several weeks.
Steven Sowders, the deputy district attorney who heads the Special Investigations unit, said a representative of his office would question the officers and witnesses.
'Looking for Violations'
"We're looking to see if there have been any violations of the law," said Sowders.
The Glendale police review board has also entered the case.
"We are concerned that no one's rights are violated, not the officers nor the man who died," said Frank A. Manzano, Glendale city attorney, who sits on the board along with police administrators.
The incident started shortly before midnight Sunday when police received a call that a man was in the intersection of Pacific and Elk avenues waving a gun at passers-by.
When the three officers arrived at 11:47 p.m., they saw Alvarado standing in the downtown street, poised in a "two-handed combat stance," according to police reports.
The officers ordered Alvarado in English to drop his weapon. Alvarado turned and pointed the silver and gray remote control device at a passing car, police said.
All three officers opened fire on Alvarado.
"They believed he was going to turn and fire on the people in the car," said Agent Christopher Loop, a police spokesman.
Alvarado was taken to St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, where he died at 5:39 a.m. Monday, according to the Los Angeles County coroner's office.
He had been struck five times, and bullets entered his leg, arm and head, according to a family friend who was present when a representative from the county coroner's spoke to the man's wife. The hospital has refused to release any information on the victim.
Alvarado, an unemployed dishwasher, lived in the 400 block of W. Colorado Street, which is about a block from the intersection where he was slain. He is survived by two small children and his pregnant wife, Concepcion, 22.
Concepcion Alvarado does not speak English. Through a neighbor who served as interpreter, she said her husband carried the remote control with him at all times because he thought the children would play with it and break it.
Her husband had left the house Sunday to take a walk and, 15 minutes later, she heard what sounded like gunshots, she said.
She and neighbors rushed to the nearby intersection to find it cordoned off by police, she said.
Sought News of Spouse
For four hours, Concepcion Alvarado tried to learn where her husband was, said Julie Macias, a family friend who lives in the same apartment as the Alvarados.
Macias said she called the hospital where the shooting victim was taken and left her name. Shortly after 4 a.m., someone called and confirmed that the victim was Alvarado, Macias said.
Police on Monday issued a statement saying that the officers believed the victim was under the influence of drugs. The officers based their conclusions on the victim's actions and his apparent reluctance to obey their commands, police spokesman Loop said.
Concepcion Alvarado, however, disputed that claim, saying her husband had not been drinking or taking drugs.
The three officers are continuing their regular patrol duties.
The last fatal shooting involving a Glendale police officer was in 1980, when a man brandishing a shotgun at officers was shot to death at a Glendale motel.
Will Delay Information
Glendale police say they will not release any more information on the Alvarado shooting or the officers involved until an internal investigation is completed.
Meanwhile, the mostly Latino residents in the downtown neighborhood have started a collection for the Alvarado family because the victim had no life insurance.
The incident illustrates the plight Spanish-speaking residents face when dealing with police, said Macias, who has contacted a lawyer on behalf of the Alvarados.
"They should get more Spanish-speaking officers on the police force. Or they should teach all their officers to say some of the commands in Spanish so this kind of tragic misunderstanding won't happen again," she said.