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3 Officers Absolved in Mistaken-Gun Killing

October 23, 1986|ROY H. CAMPBELL | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office has absolved three Glendale police officers of any wrongdoing in the shooting death of a man who was holding a television remote control device the officers said they thought was a gun. The shooting in June had spurred public criticism of the Police Department.

The three officers, whose names have never been made public, acted "in a good-faith belief that they were in danger of death," an official of the district attorney's office said Wednesday.

"We found it was a justifiable homicide based on a reasonable police belief of self-defense. It may have been a mistake of fact. They thought it was a gun, but it wasn't," said Steven Sowders, the deputy district attorney who heads the special investigation unit. A formal report on the incident will be released this week, he said.

On the night of June 1, Glendale police received a call that a man was at the intersection of Pacific and Elk avenues waving a gun at passers-by. When the three officers arrived, they saw Javier G. Alvarado, 23, of Glendale standing in the street in what they described in police reports as a "two-handed combat stance."

Twelve Bullets Fired

The officers said they ordered the man to drop what they thought was a weapon. When he did not, all three opened fire. Twelve bullets were fired, striking Alvarado in the leg, arm and chest. He died a few hours later.

An autopsy determined that there were traces of the hallucinogenic drug phencyclidine (PCP) in Alvarado's blood.

The shooting touched off protests from Alvarado's family and friends, who maintained that the shooting could have been avoided had someone spoken to Alvarado in Spanish. Alvarado had recently come to Glendale from Mexico, and his family said he could speak little English.

Other Latino residents of Glendale protested also, and two Los Angeles newspapers criticized the Police Department. Alvarado's pregnant widow, Concepcion Alvarado, 22, filed two $5-million wrongful-death claims against the City of Glendale on behalf of herself and her two children. The city denied her claim.

An attorney representing the victim's widow said he still plans to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city. "I'm not surprised that the D.A. hasn't filed any criminal charges," said attorney Jeffrey Bey. " From my experience, the district attorney's office just rubber-stamps whatever the police said."

Fatal shootings by police are routinely investigated by the district attorney.

The investigation does not determine whether the shooting could have been avoided or whether the police should have acted differently. Its only purpose, Sowders said, is to determine if a crime was committed and whether it could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sowders said his office interviewed eight witnesses who were at the scene, all of whom confirmed police accounts of the incident. The witnesses, he said, also thought Alvarado was waving a gun.

'Predictable Reaction'

"Although Alvarado's death is regrettable, his actions caused a predictable reaction by all who saw him, both witnesses and police," Sowders said.

He declined to release the names of those witnesses or the police officers involved because, he said, Glendale Police Chief David Thompson told him that the Police Department has received telephone threats against the lives of the officers.

Local officials also refused to release the officers' names. But they did release Alvarado's criminal record, which showed he had been arrested for burglary, assault and trespassing under various aliases.

The district attorney's investigation began the week of the shooting. The city conducted its own investigation, and a report issued in August by City Atty. Frank R. Manzano concluded: "The evidence is overwhelming and persuasive that all of the officers involved in this incident acted properly and well within departmental guidelines regarding the use of deadly force."

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