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Jury acquits former deputy

Differing analyses of the Chino shooting video figure in the verdict.

June 29, 2007|Maeve Reston | Times Staff Writer

A former San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy who fired on an unarmed, off-duty Air Force police officer last year -- a videotaped shooting that drew outrage when it was aired nationwide -- was acquitted Thursday of attempted voluntary manslaughter.

Ivory John Webb Jr., 46, the son of a former Compton police chief, was the first law enforcement officer to face criminal charges for an on-duty shooting in San Bernardino County. Webb, also acquitted of assault with a firearm, would have faced up to an 18-year prison sentence if he had been convicted.

After the verdict was read, an emotional Webb bearhugged his lead attorney, Michael Schwartz, with tears streaming down his face. As family members hugged one another, he pointed toward the sky and then put his raised hands together in prayer.

"I feel great.... I want to thank God first and foremost," Webb said. "I also want to thank the jurors, who came to an honest conclusion after considering all the facts."

The jury of eight men and four women spent less than half a day deliberating after the four-week trial in the San Bernardino courtroom. The case was dominated by the video footage of the Jan. 29, 2006, shooting on a residential street in Chino, as well as by dueling experts on police tactics and use of deadly force.

Outside the San Bernardino County courtroom, jurors said they were swayed more by the volatile, dangerous situation the suspects created during the high-speed chase than by the video.

"Police officers have to be given the right to make their decisions," said juror Richard Day, 43, of Highland. "If they make a bad decision in the line of duty, should we hold them responsible for that to the point that we incarcerate them for it? I don't think so."

The jury was composed of eight whites, three blacks and one Latino.

Deputy Dist. Atty. R. Lewis Cope said he was disappointed but that "we have to honor and respect the verdict."

"We were very confident in our case," Cope said. If it were to be retried, he said, "I'm not sure it would be done differently."

The prosecution's case focused on 1 minute and 15 seconds of raw, shadowy video, recorded about 10:30 p.m. on the night of the shooting. The tape showed Webb towering over Elio Carrion and then opening fire as Carrion appeared to be following his order to get up from a sprawled position on the pavement.

Carrion, 23, has returned to duty at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana after a long rehabilitation from his three gunshot wounds. His relatives gathered at the family home in Montclair, where a photo of Carrion in his military camouflage and beret was propped up against the side of the house. Carrion's godmother and aunt, Connie Madrigal, said the family was shocked.

"It's not going to end here," she said, accusing the jury of not taking the case seriously. "Everybody sees the film and knows it's not right."

"Where is the justice?" said Carrion's father, Heliodoro, who had driven with his wife, Carmen, from their home in Golden Valley, Ariz. "Everyone can see what happened.... We're in the United States.... You are supposed to have justice."

Carmen Carrion said Carrion's wife told her that when Elio heard the news, he went to his room and didn't want to speak to anyone. The family said they would gather at the U.S. attorney's office Monday to press federal attorneys to pursue a civil rights case against Webb.

In January 2006, the senior airman was home on leave after a six-month tour in Iraq and had been drinking with family and friends. Carrion left the party in a Corvette driven by a friend, who led Webb and another deputy on a chase that topped 100 mph through residential neighborhoods.

The chase ended when the Corvette crashed into a wall. Carrion jumped out of the car and onto the ground.

In freeze-frames of the video shown countless times by the defense, Carrion raises his left hand toward Webb at least twice. He testified that he may have been trying to shield his eyes from Webb's flashlight.

Though Webb had told him repeatedly to keep his hands on the ground, Carrion then appeared to use his right hand to gesture as he told Webb several times, "We're here on your side" and "We mean you no harm."

Carrion then told Webb he had more training in the military and the police than the deputy did. "You ... believe me, all right?" Carrion said as he pointed toward his chest.

Webb then appears to tell Carrion twice to "get up." When Carrion says, "OK, I'm getting up" and starts to rise, Webb shoots him three times.

Because of the video, the case initially drew comparisons to the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers. Those comparisons quickly dissipated, however, because the criticism of Webb centered on the use of excessive force, not allegations of racism. Webb is black and Carrion is Latino.

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