The Los Angeles Police Commission has ruled that the fatal shooting of a San Pedro man by a Los Angeles police officer last year was justified, overturning an initial finding in January by Police Chief Willie L. Williams.
In his report to the commission, Williams says the shooting was not in line with departmental policy.
But the commission found that Harbor Department Officer Mark Griego had little choice but to shoot Sergio Garcia, 27, after a foot chase through San Pedro on May 24, 1993.
According to Williams' report, Griego and his partner, Officer Rodney Peacock, pulled Garcia over about midnight for driving without headlights. Griego recognized Garcia as a Rancho San Pedro Street gang member who was on parole.
After being ordered out of the car, Garcia fled and was chased by Griego, who told Peacock to return to the police car and secure it.
Griego reported that he dropped his police flashlight during the chase. Garcia grabbed it and raised it to strike him on the head, the report says.
In response, Officer Griego shot Garcia four times from four feet away in a parking lot on 3rd Street.
Both Williams and the commission found that Griego's lone pursuit of Garcia and his failure to carry his baton during the chase were against police procedures.
Williams also states: "I am very concerned with (Griego's) lack of fire control. I have determined Officer Griego failed to exhaust all reasonable alternatives prior to using deadly force. . . . Griego's use of force is not within department guidelines."
Police Commission Deputy Executive Director Cliff Weiss said the commission found the shooting was justified because department policy allows police officers to shoot a suspect if there is an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer.
However, the commission report adds: Griego "requires training in fire control, as he fired four rapid rounds at the suspect, rather than assessing each round before continuing to fire."
The board has revised 10 of more than 200 findings by Williams in the past two years. "In the vast majority of cases, they are in agreement," Weiss said.
At a press conference held at the Garcia home in San Pedro last week, attorney Hugh Manes said the family, which has sued the city over the fatal shooting, has added the commission and its members to the suit.
The complaint over Garcia's death is expected to be heard in federal court next year.
Manes said no fingerprints were found on Griego's flashlight, and several witnesses have told him Garcia never touched it.
Manes said the commission's finding sends a message to LAPD officers that the use of deadly force against an unarmed man is an acceptable option.
"That is not in the best interests of the people. It's certainly not in the best interests of those who are at the receiving end of force by the department."
Six days before the detailed finding by the commission was released on Aug. 1, the Special Investigations Division of the county District Attorney's Office concluded that Griego had not acted unlawfully and no charges would be filed against him.
But local attorney and community activist Diane L. Middleton said the community will not rest until criminal charges are brought against Griego.
"Since the shooting, Griego has not lost one day's pay. We want Officer Griego fired," Middleton said.
About 50 family members, friends and neighbors gathered last week in the small apartment Garcia lived in with his mother and siblings. They said police officers have harassed the African American and Latino neighborhood for years.
The dead man's sister, Marisol Garcia, 24, chairs the San Pedro Committee Against Police Misconduct, which was formed after Garcia's death.
Harbor Department officials declined to comment or to confirm that the two officers are still assigned to the division.