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Eight reasons to be thankful deputy isn't a crack shot

Liquor store owner was pointing in the direction two robbers had fled. Then an officer started firing at him.

October 05, 2010|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times

When Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies pulled up to Likun Sahilu's liquor store moments after it was robbed at gunpoint Sunday, the slight Ethiopian immigrant was relieved.

That is, until a deputy started shooting at him.

Eight bullets. Eight misses.

"God has sent me his angels to protect me," Sahilu said.

The deputies, he said, were about 50 feet away with their lights off. He initially thought they were shooting at the robbers, so he continued to point in the direction in which they fled. Sheriff's Department officials said the deputy mistakenly believed the unarmed Sahilu was pointing a gun at him and fired in what he thought was self-defense.

When Sahilu realized the bullets intended for him, he dropped to the ground. A day later he says it's a miracle the deputy missed. He said he was standing still, and within close range.

"I'm lucky he is a new guy," he said of the rookie deputy who shot at him.

He said he has no plans of taking legal action against the department, but is surprised that no one from the agency has offered an apology.

Authorities were called to the liquor store near Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Boulevards in the early morning. Descriptions of the robbers were limited: a black man armed with a handgun, accompanied by a black woman.

Michael Gennaco, who heads the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review, a department watchdog, said the information that the deputies were working with was "not much of a description."

"It's a difficult assessment, but the deputies have to make the correct assessment whether someone is aggressing … or is just trying to point out the departing suspects," he said.

Additionally, Sheriff's Capt. Mike Parker said, the deputy who fired his gun had responded to another robbery at the same liquor store weeks before.

"Here he is rolling into an armed robbery at a place" that was recently robbed, Parker said. "Already tensions are high."

The street was dark, the limited physical description matched and the man was pointing with a gesture, Parker said.

"We don't want to be critical of somebody when they've gone through this traumatic experience but it's really best if when you call 911 and … you're going to come outside that you keep your hands in plain sight," Parker said. "We don't know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. That's what we're coming to find out."

Parker said that as customary after shootings, the deputy, whose identity was withheld, would probably not be put back on patrol immediately.

As it does with all shootings involving deputies, the department has launched several investigations of the incident.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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