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Deputy's Gunfire Looks Like a Crime to Some

February 02, 2006|Matt Lait and Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writers

A San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy who shot a 21-year-old Air Force security officer in an incident captured by a video camera appears to have violated accepted police tactics and may have committed a criminal offense, experts in the use of force by police said Wednesday.

The experts cautioned that the low quality of the digital recording may obscure some important evidence. But what is visible -- the image of the deputy firing multiple rounds at 21-year-old Elio Carrion as he appeared to follow the deputy's order to get off the ground -- was shocking, they said.

"It's a criminal act," said Roger Clark, a former Los Angeles County sheriff's lieutenant who routinely testifies in court as an expert in police tactics. Clark has worked both for police officers and for citizens who have sued the police. "He shot an unarmed man who was complying with his orders," Clark said.

David Klinger, a use-of-force expert who teaches at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and wrote a book titled "Into The Kill Zone: A Cop's Eye View of Deadly Force," said the recording was "the screwiest thing I've ever seen. It makes no sense."

"What I saw was totally incongruous with standard police doctrine," said Klinger, a professor of criminology and onetime LAPD officer.

San Bernardino County sheriff's officials have refused to release the name of the deputy, although state law makes the identity of law enforcement officers involved in shootings a matter of public record.

A source close to the investigation confirmed the identity of the deputy as Ivory J. Webb IV, 45.

Answering the front door of Webb's home, a woman said the deputy, currently on paid administrative leave, was not willing to discuss the shooting.

"We have nothing to say," the woman said. "Please leave our property."

Webb was named as one of seven co-defendants in a 2004 federal civil lawsuit against San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies that alleged excessive use of force by another deputy. Jurors in that case ruled for the officers and cleared Webb, who had been accused of failing to stop his colleague from misconduct.

Webb is believed to be the son of a former Compton chief of police, also named Ivory Webb. The elder Webb has a son whose birth date matches that of the San Bernardino deputy. That son played college football at Iowa, where he was a two-time letterman receiver and played in the 1982 Rose Bowl.

A woman who answered the telephone at the elder Webb's home said, "my son didn't do anything."

The shooting, which occurred on a residential street in Chino, was recorded by a bystander and shows Carrion crouching on the ground telling the deputy that he was "on your side" and meant him "no harm."

At one point, a voice on the recording appears to say "stay on the ground." Seconds later, however, the deputy appears to tell Carrion: "Get up, get up." As Carrion rises, the deputy, who is standing several feet away, shoots him three times.

Carrion remains hospitalized in good condition.

Carrion was the passenger in a blue Corvette that had led the deputy on a brief high-speed chase Sunday night. The chase ended when the driver crashed into a fence on a residential street. Neither Carrion nor the driver had any weapons, sheriff's officials said.

On Tuesday, the U.S. attorney's office said a federal civil rights probe of the shooting had been opened.

A separate investigation is being conducted by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

On Wednesday, county Dist. Atty. Michael Ramos said in a statement that "we fully expect the investigation to be both thorough and comprehensive." Once the sheriff's investigation is finished, Ramos said, his prosecutors will decide whether to bring charges against the deputy.

Law enforcement officials warned against making quick judgments about the shooting until the recording had been thoroughly analyzed and investigations completed.

The recording, which has received national media attention, is poor in quality and was shot at night and on a dark residential street. Conversations between the deputy and Carrion are at times difficult to hear, and some statements are too faint or garbled to be discerned.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers said some dialogue appeared to be inaudible because of background noise.

"We're hoping the FBI's forensic exam of the tape will provide a complete description of the dialogue," Beavers said. "And then there will be no doubts."

Under state law, officers are allowed to use deadly force if they perceive that a person presents a deadly threat to themselves or others.

However, several law enforcement experts who reviewed the recording said they did not see any threat from Carrion that would justify the use of deadly force.

Carrion was not charged with any crime. The driver of the vehicle, Luis Fernando Escobedo, 21, was arrested on suspicion of felony evading but has not been charged. He was released from jail Tuesday night.

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