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Police fatally shoot unarmed man in Koreatown

Steven Eugene Washington, 27, didn't respond to commands and seemed to reach for a weapon, officers say. Relatives say he had learning disabilities and was generally afraid of strangers.

March 21, 2010|By Jason Song

Los Angeles Police officers shot and killed a man in Koreatown early Saturday morning after he reached into his waistband for what officers believed was a weapon, authorities said.

Steven Eugene Washington, 27, died from a single gunshot wound to the head shortly after midnight.

Although no weapon was found, officers said they feared for their lives because Washington did not respond to their commands and appeared to be reaching for his waistband.

Hours after the shooting, Washington's relatives criticized police and said the dead man had suffered from learning disabilities and was generally afraid of strangers. They insisted that he was not violent and that he probably was walking home after visiting a friend.

Police identified the gang enforcement officers involved as Allan Corrales and George Diego, who have served nearly seven and eight years with the department, respectively. Both have been reassigned until the probe is completed, police said.

Corrales and Diego were driving south on Vermont Avenue near James M. Wood Boulevard shortly after midnight in a marked police car when they heard a loud sound, according to police. They turned the car around and saw Washington walking north on Vermont while looking around and touching something in his waistband area.

The officers spoke to Washington, but he approached them and seemed to remove something from his waistband, police said.

Corrales and Diego believed "he was arming himself" and fired, Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger said at an afternoon news conference.

"The officers made decisions in a fraction of a second," he added.

It appears the officers fired once each, Paysinger said. It's unclear which bullet struck Washington.

Washington's family said he was autistic and had learning disabilities but enjoyed riding the bus and trains. He was taking classes at a community college and wanted to become a mechanic. He often took the Metro Red Line subway to visit friends and was probably walking to his home a few blocks to the south, his family said.

Washington was generally wary around strangers and sometimes shy even around family members.

"That's what we lost today: a kid," said his aunt, Vickie Thompson.

jason.song@latimes.com

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