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Video fails to show if teen killed by deputy had a gun

Doughnut shop's security camera captures the last moments in the life of Avery Cody Jr., 16. the image is not clear enough to answer questions.

July 17, 2009|Joel Rubin and Richard Winton

Footage from a security camera captured the last, frantic seconds leading up to the shooting death of a teenager by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy last week, but the images fail to resolve conflicting accounts of the incident.

The video, taken from a surveillance camera mounted on the facade of a doughnut shop, shows 16-year-old Avery Cody Jr. sprinting from the sidewalk onto Alondra Boulevard in Compton on July 5. A deputy is seen giving close chase with his gun drawn and apparently firing at the boy, who is beyond the camera's range.

The images are too poor in quality to confirm the statement by sheriff's officials that Cody had a handgun in his left hand as he fled. In one of the frames of the video, he appears to be holding a dark-colored object in his left hand, but it is not clear whether it is a gun or something else.

The deputy told investigators that he fired twice when Cody turned back during the chase and pointed a handgun at him, said Lt. Dave Dolson, who is overseeing the Sheriff's Department's investigation into the shooting. A .38-caliber gun was recovered next to Cody's body, Dolson said.

John Sweeney, an attorney for Cody's family, and people who had been at the scene disputed the deputy's account of the shooting, however. Sweeney said the object in Cody's hand "does not appear to be a gun" and suggested it could have been a cellphone that was also recovered at the scene. Cody was right-handed, the attorney said, challenging the idea that the teen would have used his left hand to wield a gun. Another teen who was stopped with Cody said in an interview that he did not hear the deputy shout warnings or commands at Cody during the brief chase.

"The bottom line is he was running away and was shot in the back," Sweeney said.

Cody was struck once. Photographs reviewed by The Times showed a wound about half way up Cody's back, a few inches to the left of his spine. Dr. David Posey, a forensic pathologist hired by Sweeney to conduct an autopsy, said the wound marks the bullet's entry but said it was impossible to tell from the bullet's trajectory how Cody was positioned when he was shot.

An official autopsy performed by the county coroner's office has been sealed. Dolson, who attended that autopsy, said the entry of the bullet was consistent with the deputy's account.

A woman who claimed she witnessed the shooting said Cody looked back over his shoulder the moment before he was shot but added that she did not see a gun in the teen's hand or any threatening motion toward the deputy. The woman spoke on the condition her name not be used out of concern for her safety.

Dolson said Sheriff's Department investigators interviewed witnesses who said they saw Cody with the gun. He declined to identify the witnesses.

The confrontation occurred minutes after Cody and three friends left a McDonald's restaurant around 3:45 p.m. The deputy and his partner, who were working a gang suppression assignment, approached the group while driving an unmarked vehicle, Dolson said.

The deputies suspected the boys of being involved in gang activity. The boys were ordered to lift their shirts so deputies could see if they were carrying weapons, at which point Cody fled. The deputy, Dolson said, observed the weapon as he was giving chase.

Sheriff's officials have denied repeated requests by The Times for the name of the deputy.

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joel.rubin@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

Staff writer Nicole Santa Cruz contributed to this report.

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