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Police Shooting Called an Execution

Violence: Family of mentally ill woman files a $25-million claim against Long Beach in the slaying by officers.

January 29, 2002|LOUIS SAHAGUN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An attorney for relatives of a mentally ill woman shot to death by Long Beach police after she allegedly raised a knife at them accused the Police Department on Monday of "executing" her.

The attorney, John E. Sweeney, also filed a $25-million claim against the city of Long Beach. Such claims are normally rejected, leading to lawsuits.

Officers encountered Marcella Byrd after responding to a report on Jan. 19 that a woman had left a market without paying.

Sweeney said police have improperly characterized Byrd "as a 300-pound, out-of-control behemoth who knocked over a grocery store and tried to make a getaway." In fact, he said, "she was closer to 260 pounds, stood 4 feet, 5 1/2 inches tall. She was a kind, gentle person who was diagnosed 20 years ago as having schizophrenia.

"We think this was nothing less than a summary execution."

Byrd, 57, had been in and out of mental institutions and patient-care programs, the attorney said.

The claim contends that the city "negligently hired, trained, managed and/or supervised each of the Long Beach officers involved in this incident, leading to actions, failures to act and negligent conduct."

It also alleges that the city "should have known" that each of the officers who shot Byrd "was an aggressive and dangerous officer."

Long Beach Police Department spokesman Sgt. Steve Filippini declined to comment.

Long Beach City Atty. Robert Shannon said, "We believe it was a legitimate police response, but our own investigation is continuing."

Initially, authorities said they had no choice but to shoot the knife-wielding woman.

Police repeatedly ordered Byrd to stop and drop the steak knife as they followed her toward the bustling downtown Pine Avenue restaurant district.

Byrd, a resident of a downtown seniors apartment complex, ignored the commands. Fearing Byrd posed a public threat, police initially fired beanbags, which seemed to have little effect, authorities said.

Byrd was shot several times in the torso after she raised the knife to a throwing position, authorities said. Long Beach Fire Department paramedics took her to a hospital, where she died during surgery.

In an interview, Byrd's son, Tirus Parhms, said, "I'm still in shock. I can't understand it. My mother was not a threat to anyone."

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