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Witness to fatal shooting of honors student says teen wasn't speeding toward deputy

Douglas Ryan Oeters said Zac Champommier's car did strike the L.A. County sheriff's deputy in a Studio City parking lot but that the young man was driving slowly and did not pose a deadly threat.

July 13, 2010|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times

A man who witnessed last month's fatal police shooting of an 18-year-old honors student confirmed that the teenager drove at — and struck — a plainclothes deputy but disputed that the young man had sped toward the deputy as authorities contended.

The shooting in a Studio City parking lot sparked outrage and disbelief among family and friends who described the recent Granada Hills Charter High School graduate as a "band geek" and the last person they would have expected to intentionally run down an officer.

Douglas Ryan Oeters, who was being detained by police in the parking lot before the shooting, said Zac Champommier's car struck the Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, sending him over the hood and onto the ground. Oeters, however, said the young man was driving slowly and did not pose a deadly threat.

In an exchange of online messages with The Times, Oeters, who was arrested on suspicion of interfering with police, characterized the encounter as frightening. He said the team of plainclothes officers gathered in the parking lot were slow to identify themselves as law enforcement.

"They did not show any badge before rushing at me. I am sure Zac was scared just like me and left the parking lot due to a panic they started for no reason," Oeters, 29, said about the June 24 incident. "This has caused an innocent 18-year-old to be shot after he reacted to the group surrounding me."

Sheriff's officials said the two officers who fired their weapons did not have time to identify themselves to the driver. The department has begun an investigation into the shooting, but sheriff's officials said they have no indication that the officers acted improperly.

"The nature of [Champommier's] aggressive actions — actually hitting the deputy — that is not someone who is without some degree of fault," Sheriff Lee Baca said.

According to Oeters, he and Champommier had met online the night before and had arranged "to go see a movie and hang out."

The two had exchanged several messages and phone calls before Champommier pulled into the parking lot about 9:30 pm., authorities said. Champommier had told Oeters he would be in a white car, Oeters said.

Oeters was peering into a car with a similar description when he was confronted by a group of men in the parking lot. The men, whom Oeters said he initially mistook as a group of "rednecks" looking to pick a fight, were part of an interagency narcotics task force.

The officers, who included members of the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Sheriff's Department and the LAPD, were in the lot discussing a search warrant they had just served. They were in plainclothes with unmarked cars. They suspected Oeters was attempting to break into vehicles.

Sheriff's homicide Capt. Dave Smith said the plainclothes officers quickly identified themselves to Oeters, but he continued to resist them.

Champommier, who was parked nearby, suddenly accelerated in the direction of a deputy, striking him, Smith said. The deputy rolled off the hood and onto the ground before he and a DEA agent fired into the white sedan, killing the teenager. Initial details from Champommier's autopsy show that a bullet entered through his right arm.

Oeters was arrested that evening and released on $20,000 bail. He told The Times he was from Ohio and had recently moved to Los Angeles with hopes of selling a screenplay. Records show that Oeters had at least one other brush with the law. In Ohio, he was convicted of a charge related to soliciting sex from a minor, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

In the weeks since the shooting, the tight-knit group of marching-band families have mourned Champommier's death, some of them forming an online community on Facebook. Many have expressed confusion as to why Champommier was in the parking lot, and how the gentle, by-the-book teen could have found himself in a violent confrontation with law enforcement personnel.

Authorities have discussed details of the incident with Champommier's mother. But she still has concerns.

"I don't believe I have all the facts," Carol Champommier said. "He wouldn't intentionally hurt anybody."

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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