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Baca to convene panel to examine deputy-involved shootings

After the 10th fatal shooting involving a deputy this year, the L.A. County sheriff wants to study whether the department needs further training in tactical responses to armed or unarmed people.

September 17, 2009|Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said Wednesday that he will convene a panel to examine deputy-involved shootings -- two days after a deputy fatally shot an unarmed man in the back of the neck and side during a foot pursuit.

The incident marked the 10th fatal deputy-involved shooting in 2009, twice the number of such cases for the same period last year.

The shooting took place Monday in Athens when sheriff's officials said that a man matching the description of an armed suspect placed his hands in his waistband as he ran from a deputy.

The deputy, who was not immediately identified, believed that the man was reaching for a gun and fired his service weapon three times, striking Darrick Collins, 36, Baca said.

At least two of the rounds penetrated a wooden gate before hitting Collins.

Investigators later recovered a cellphone -- but no weapon -- from the scene and also determined that Collins was not the suspect they were looking for.

Investigators said Collins, who had been arrested two weeks earlier on suspicion of drug possession, was found with Ecstasy and methamphetamine.

Baca said he wanted the expert panel to study whether the department needed additional training measures in tactical responses to armed or unarmed individuals who resist or reject orders by deputies.

He also asked the panel to investigate the possibility of expediting a wide range of deputy-involved shooting investigations.

"This is about transparency and providing an accounting to the community," said department spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Those assurances, however, did little to assuage the concerns of Collins' relatives, who expressed outrage over the shooting.

"I just want justice for my son, that's what I want," said his mother, Bernastein Huckabee. "It's pathetic how they did this. They took my son away from me."

The circumstances involving Collins' death also raised questions about training and discipline in connection with the sheriff's foot pursuit policy, which already is considered among the most restrictive in the nation.

"We want to get better answers to deputies' questions, [such as] what should I do if I am chasing a suspect and believe he is armed?" Baca said.

Merrick Bobb, an attorney who monitors the Sheriff's Department under a contract with the Board of Supervisors, said he believed that the additional scrutiny of foot pursuits is warranted.

Noting that 25% of officer-involved shootings between 1997 and 2002 involved foot pursuits, Bobb said that "in appropriate circumstances, there are alternatives to foot pursuits" including setting up perimeters and use of helicopters.

Bobb said the department panel should revisit recommendations made in his annual report to the supervisors in February 2005, including meting out discipline for deputies who engaged in unreasonable foot pursuits.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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