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Inglewood officer in 2nd gun death

Residents are upset that Brian Ragan was back on the job after a May shooting. Latest victim was armed.

July 22, 2008|Joanna Lin and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

An Inglewood police officer who shot and killed an armed man early Monday while responding to a domestic disturbance call is one of two patrolmen under investigation for another fatal shooting in May, authorities said.

Officer Brian Ragan, a 5 1/2 -year veteran of the department, was immediately placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting of Kevin Wicks, 38, said Capt. Eve Irvine, commanding officer of the department's detective bureau.

Ragan was one of four officers who responded to a family disturbance call at Wicks' apartment in the 100 block of North Hillcrest Blvd. about 12:30 a.m., authorities said. The officers knocked on the door and it was opened by a man holding a gun, police said.

"At one point while the door was ajar, the officers observed that Wicks was holding a handgun," police said in a prepared statement. "Wicks then suddenly raised the handgun at the officers, which resulted in one officer firing his service weapon in self-defense."

Wicks, who had been alone in the apartment, was taken to a hospital, where he died, police said. At the scene, officers recovered a handgun registered to Wicks, Irvine said.

Kevin Hackie, a private investigator hired by Wicks' family, said later that officers had gone to the wrong apartment and that they did not identify themselves. But police said that was not the case.

Ragan and Officer Roman Fernandez had previously been placed on administrative leave after the May 11 shooting of Michael Byoune, 19, Larry White, 19, and Chris Larkin, 21. Byoune died from his wounds.

In that case, the officers had believed they were under fire when they shot at the vehicle the three men were riding in, but the men were unarmed. The victims' families have filed a $25-million lawsuit against the city and the department.

Monday evening, dozens of residents, family members, friends and community activists gathered outside Wicks' apartment complex to protest his shooting, chanting "Enough is enough." They said they planned to attend tonight's City Council meeting to register their outrage.

Dorothy Nelson, Wicks' grandmother, described him as an honest and hardworking man. She said Wicks, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service, had two daughters, ages 12 and 2.

"It's very sad that our system is so poor that they would put a police officer that just shot someone" back on the street, she said, referring to Ragan, who returned to work last month.

The Rev. Cecil L. "Chip" Murray, former pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, said "justice is in a waiting mode."

"I hope the system will be true to the best that is within us," he said.

Reached at his home, Paul Edwards, cousin of Michael Byoune, said he also was upset that Ragan had returned to work so soon after the May shooting. He questioned the department's rationale for putting him back on patrol while an investigation is still underway.

"It's astonishing that with Brian Ragan's recent history that he would be back on the force," Edwards said.

Inglewood Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks was on vacation and unavailable for comment. But Irvine, the Inglewood captain, said a psychologist had cleared Ragan for active duty and that the department had concurred. She said every officer-involved shooting is handled differently based on the circumstances.

But generally, she said, officers are allowed to return to work "as long as criminal charges are not pending and there are no extenuating circumstances." She said the department doesn't always wait until an investigation is complete because that could take six months or more.

The Los Angeles Police Department operates under a similar policy. Officers who fire their weapons are immediately reassigned pending a 72-hour review of the shooting, officials said. During that time, they are removed from the field and are required to speak with a department psychologist.

The shooting is reviewed by the police chief, who decides whether the officer should remain restricted or allowed back on patrol pending an investigation, officials said.

Among the criteria considered are the circumstances of the shooting, whether the officer would be recognized and confronted by the public, and whether the officer has been affected physically or emotionally by the incident.

In cases where there are allegations of criminal or administrative wrongdoing, it could take months before an officer is placed back in the field, officials said.

Merrick Bobb, a Los Angeles lawyer who helps monitor and give guidance to police departments around the country, said it was hard to judge whether Ragan should have been back in the field because of the Inglewood's Police Department's refusal to be "transparent and accountable."

"A large dark cloud hangs over the department and has been there for several years, all because of these shootings, beatings and other cases of apparent misconduct," said Bobb, who also serves as a special counsel to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. "It may be time for the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice to initiate a 'pattern or practice' investigation of the Inglewood P.D. such as occurred in Los Angeles after the Rampart corruption scandal."

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joanna.lin@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

Times staff writer Ari B. Bloomekatz contributed to this report.

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