A Westlake resident who said she witnessed the fatal shooting of a Guatemalan day laborer by a Los Angeles police officer said Thursday that she saw no knife in the man's hands, contradicting the Police Department's account.
"He had nothing in his hands," said Ana, who did not give her last name and asked that her face be obscured in photos and on television because she feared being harassed by the police. "At the moment when the police were shooting, he had nothing."
Ana said she was across the street Sunday afternoon when bicycle officers with the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division approached 37-year-old Manuel Jamines, who police said was wielding a knife and threatening people in the crowded shopping district.
Officer Frank Hernandez, a 13-year department veteran, fired two shots when Jamines came at him with the knife raised over his head, officials have said.
Jamines' death sparked protests and violent skirmishes between demonstrators and police for three nights in the area near 6th Street and Union Avenue. Dozens of protesters have been arrested.
Ana, who said she was interviewed by police on the day of the shooting, gave her account Thursday morning in front of a phalanx of television cameras and reporters at a news conference called by community activists, who said she contacted them after seeing a flier they passed out.
Ana said she was walking down the street when she heard the officers yell "drop the weapon" in Spanish. She said the man appeared drunk and was having trouble keeping his balance. He stepped toward the officers, but it appeared to be an attempt to keep from falling forward, she said. Ana said she gestured to the man from across the street, trying to get him to turn around and let police arrest him.
But less than a minute after she first heard the officers' warning, an officer fired two shots into the man's head, Ana said. She said the impact from the shots, which she said were fired from about five to six feet away from Jamines, was such that blood splattered to the other side of the street where she stood.
Ana, who works in a school cafeteria, said she has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years and believes that police have been overly aggressive in cracking down on street vendors and seizing their products. Other residents have said the anger over Jamines' death was fueled, in part, by that alleged aggression.
After the news conference, Ana met with state Assemblyman Kevin De Léon (D-Los Angeles), who was on his way to a meeting with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.
De Léon said he planned to ask Beck for a thorough and complete investigation into whether the shooting was justified, but believes opportunists are seizing on heightened emotion in the neighborhood to push their anti-police agenda.
"There are individuals exploiting the death and being opportunistic," he said. "They're not helping the situation."
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also offered a vigorous defense Thursday of the officers involved, saying they were heroes who "acted with bravery."
"Let's be clear, and I will be, about what happened in the Westlake area," Villaraigosa told reporters. "There was a man with a knife. That man with a knife was threatening individuals, innocent people who were on the street there. That man was in close proximity — in fact, the facts will show that actually he had his hand on at least one person at some point in that altercation.
"We've got to go through an investigation," Villaraigosa said. "But when it's all said and done, I'll guarantee you what's going to come out is that these guys are heroes, and I stand by them."
Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.