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Shooting was tragic, chief says

She says officers were reacting to a rapidly evolving situation when they killed a 19-year-old.

May 15, 2008|Ari B. Bloomekatz | Times Staff Writer

Inglewood Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks again expressed condolences Wednesday to the family of an unarmed man killed and another wounded by police officers in a shooting that she said was prompted by the actions of an unidentified gunman and resulted in "a very tragic outcome."

Michael Byoune, 19, was killed early Sunday by two officers who fired on the vehicle he was riding in near Manchester and Crenshaw boulevards, apparently believing gunfire was coming from the car.

The driver, Larry White, also 19, was injured, and another passenger, Chris Larkin, 21, was grazed by the officers' bullets.

"I won't go so far as to call it a mistake," Seabrooks said during an afternoon news conference at the police station. "The process that the officers went through had a very tragic outcome."

Seabrooks identified the officers as Brian Ragan, a 5 1/2 -year veteran, and Roman Fernandez, who has been with the department less than a year.

Both have been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of criminal and administrative investigations.

Meanwhile, attorney Carl Douglas, who is representing the three men and their families, called the shooting an "abomination" and disputed some police accounts of the incident.

He said that Byoune's car was stopped and that officers fired on the three men before Larkin, who was running to the vehicle, jumped inside.

"Before the back door could be closed, they started shooting," Douglas said of the officers.

He described graze wounds that Larkin received on his buttocks and said he had a pair of the man's jeans with a bullet hole.

Byoune's family members have said the three men had gone to a restaurant in the Morningside Park neighborhood to get something to eat when they heard gunfire and tried to flee.

They said Byoune was not involved with gangs and had never had run-ins with police.

During Wednesday's news conference, police officials gave additional details about the shooting and the unidentified gunman who drew officers to the scene.

They said the patrol officers heard gunshots about 1:40 a.m. near Manchester and Crenshaw boulevards and saw a man, later identified as Larkin, running.

Officials said Larkin got into the back of a slow-moving vehicle headed toward the officers' cruiser, which had just pulled into the entrance of a parking lot near Rally's restaurant off Manchester Boulevard.

They said the officers heard gunfire and thought their lives were in jeopardy.

Seabrooks said Ragan first fired four shots through his windshield from inside the cruiser at Byoune's car and then he and Fernandez got out of the patrol car and continued firing.

She said there is no indication the officers warned the men in the car before they opened fire.

"Did they see a gun?" asked a reporter.

"No," Seabrooks said.

She said the shooting was a "rapidly evolving situation" that lasted less than a minute.

She also played a recording of the officers' radio calls during the shooting to show how quickly events transpired.

It was a "highly tragic set of circumstances for everyone involved," Seabrooks said.

Police said they have three witnesses who saw a gunman firing in the area before the incident.

Investigators are trying to determine whether expended rounds found in the parking lot came from the officers' weapons or the gunman's.

No one has been arrested or charged. Police said that there is no evidence linking the three men with the initial gunfire.

"We give our Police Department tremendous power," Douglas said. "The power to arrest, the power to use deadly force. And with that great power comes great responsibility. . . . This reflects a breakdown in training."

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ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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