Witnesses and police told contrasting stories Friday of how a Los Angeles police officer shot a man to death in El Sereno after someone called to report that the man was waving a pistol.
According to police, Michael Fierro Arocha, 27, of Los Angeles was shot after he reached into his waistband for the pistol, which looked real but turned out to be a plastic toy.
According to two witnesses, Arocha had been seen earlier with the toy, which he planned to give to his son. But the witnesses said Arocha did not have the plastic pistol with him when the officer shot him.
A man who gave his name only as Soriano said he saw Arocha walking in the neighborhood next to Lincoln Park on Thursday afternoon.
"The guy had a black plastic pistol in his waistband on his pants," Soriano said. "You could see it because he wasn't wearing a shirt. He said he was taking it to his kid. He had been drinking."
Nancy Claiborne, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Department, said the department received a 911 telephone call at 4:15 p.m., warning that there was a shirtless man with a gun near Mission Road and Thomas Street. Claiborne said Officers Conrad Cota and Ernest Orona were sent to the scene.
"The guy was walking out of the (convenience) store on the corner when the police car came up real fast," said a witness who gave her name only as Rosario.
"One cop got out with a pistol, and the other cop got out with a shotgun," she said. "They both pointed their guns at him and told him, 'Stop!' "
At this point, the stories of the officers and the witnesses diverge.
"Both officers could clearly see the weapon in the suspect's waistband," Claiborne said. "The suspect grabbed the weapon with his right hand. As he turned toward the officers, he appeared to be drawing the weapon. Officer Cota fired three rounds (from his pistol), striking the suspect in the upper torso. The suspect fell to the ground, where he expired."
Claiborne said the officers recovered a pistol from Arocha--"a realistic-looking replica of a blue, steel .38-caliber revolver."
But Rosario and Soriano insisted that they couldn't see any pistol in Arocha's possession when he was shot.
"When the cops told the guy to stop, he stopped," Soriano said. "Another police car drove up, and the guy turned his face to look. As he turned, the cop shot him. The impact spun him around and the cop shot him again in the back. The guy didn't have no gun."
Police said the incident was under investigation by the department's officer-involved shooting team.