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Federal probe sought of Torrance shootings

Civil rights activists want the Justice Department to look into the deaths of two burglary suspects.

July 20, 2007|Stuart Silverstein | Times Staff Writer

Civil rights activists called Thursday for a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the shooting deaths by Torrance police last weekend of two suspected burglars who were hiding in a backyard shed.

The Torrance Police Department has said that neither of the two slain suspects was carrying a gun.

But the department said the suspects touched off the fatal showdown by moving "aggressively" toward officers with "sharp yard tools" after investigators opened the door of the shed.

Police officials have refused to say what tools the suspects were wielding or how close they were to police.

The department's description of the incident has been "very vague," said Eddie Jones, president of the Los Angeles Civil Rights Assn., who held an afternoon news conference with other activists.

"You don't take two human lives and just say we have nothing else to say about it," he added.

Jones questioned why police opened fire on the two men, who were cornered in the shed after a nearly four-hour search that ended mid-afternoon Saturday.

He said police could have subdued the suspected home burglars with, for example, a police dog, tear gas or a baton, or they could have brought in a special negotiator.

He also called on the Justice Department to investigate two other Torrance police shootings, one of them also fatal, of suspects earlier this month.

The Torrance Police Department said its officers called out to the suspects in the shed numerous times to surrender before the deadly confrontation.

The department said its own preliminary review has found no evidence of wrongdoing by the officers.

But two friends of the slain men, who said they were in contact by cellphone with the suspects shortly before they were killed, have maintained that the pair were ready to give themselves up.

Lt. Rod Irvine, a Police Department spokesman, refused to provide any additional details about the shootings.

He said the two officers, whom the department has refused to identify, fired multiple shots during the confrontation and remain on paid leave.

Irvine said the department is conducting its own investigation and will provide the results to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, whose standard practice is to examine all police shootings.

If the federal government takes up the case, "obviously, we'll cooperate," Irvine said.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department in Los Angeles, said, "We're reviewing what information we have to determine whether or not we will look into it."

The slain suspects have been identified as Charlie Maurice Wilson, 20, of Gardena and Shaun Conely Devell McCoy, 22, of Adelanto. A third man, Erin Jamahl Madden, 19, of Harbor City was arrested near the burglary scene and has been charged with burglary in connection with the incident.

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