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Inglewood police shoot, kill man at birthday party

Marcus Smith, 31, allegedly brandished a semiautomatic handgun at officers. One officer was wounded. The department is already under investigation by two agencies over its use of deadly force.

May 18, 2009|Corina Knoll and David Zahniser

Inglewood police shot and killed a man who allegedly brandished a weapon early Sunday while officers were attempting to break up a birthday party, authorities said.

The shooting was the latest deadly incident involving Inglewood's Police Department, which is under investigation by two outside agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice, over its use of deadly force.

Police said officers responded to reports of a fight shortly after 12:45 a.m. in the 800 block of South Osage Avenue. Officers opened fire on Marcus Smith, 31, of Compton after he pointed a semiautomatic handgun at them, Lt. Mike McBride said.

"He had it in his hand. He drew it and pointed it in the direction of the officers," McBride said. "So I would say that's threatening the officers."

One officer was shot in the right leg in the incident. He was taken to a hospital, treated and released, McBride said. Police suspect the officer was shot by Smith, but they need to conduct more tests on his gun to be sure, he said.

A woman who identified herself as Smith's fiancee said she did not see him brandish a weapon. Kalonna LaCount said she and Smith were leaving the party together after police called on guests to disperse.

LaCount said she and Smith were walking down a stairway when Smith slipped. LaCount said she then saw Smith's body jerk as police fired their weapons.

"He had his hands in the air," she said. "The more he stumbled, the more they shot."

LaCount said she was not certain whether Smith was armed or even owned a gun. LaCount, wearing a green dress stained with Smith's blood, sat on the steps of the apartment building Sunday and wept as she recounted the moments before his death. LaCount said she and Smith had been together for 18 years and have three daughters, all under the age of 12.

Turning to her brother, Taqwa LaCount, she said: "He's dead. Can you believe it? What am I going to do?"

The Inglewood Police Department is under investigation by the Justice Department and the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review over incidents in which officers have been accused of using excessive force.

The Justice Department's investigation is being handled by the federal agency's civil rights division in Washington. The county's independent review office, which monitors the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, has promised to look at the Inglewood department's training, supervision, policies and protocol.

The Police Department was the subject of community protests last year from residents angry over four incidents between May and September in which officers shot and killed unarmed suspects. A Times investigation last year also found that five of 11 people shot and killed by Inglewood police since 2003 were unarmed.

On Sunday, police and witnesses described the scene at the two-story apartment building as chaotic, with dozens of people attending the party as officers arrived.

Morris Griffin, 50, who lives in a ground-floor apartment directly below the scene of the shooting, said he heard an argument, went upstairs and saw two men wrestling. He said he separated them, but they continued arguing, so he ran back to his apartment and called police.

Griffin said he heard officers shout "Police! Gun!" before at least seven to eight shots were fired. Smith was struck on the outdoor stairs leading to the second floor, Griffin said. "The officers appeared to be intimidated by the size of the individuals," he said.

Inglewood resident Charisma Bailey, 28, who lives in the apartment where the Mardi Gras-themed party was held, said party-goers were wearing masks and beads.

Bailey said she was standing next to the window of her apartment, looking down the stairs when officers approached the building holding flashlights and guns.

"The next thing you know, they're shooting, and he's falling down the steps," she said of Smith.

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corina.knoll@latimes.com

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.

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