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LAPD officer found justified in fatally shooting naked man

The Police Commission upholds the use of lethal force against a combative Reginald Doucet Jr., who punched the officer and tried to take his gun during a confrontation in Playa Vista.

December 24, 2011|By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times

A Los Angeles police officer was justified in fatally shooting a naked, combative man, the Los Angeles Police Commission has ruled.

The unanimous decision by the civilian board, which judges whether serious uses of force by Los Angeles Police Department officers are reasonable, closes the department's internal investigation into the dramatic, controversial confrontation, which drew media scrutiny and angry protests from the dead man's family and friends.

An attorney for the family of the victim, Reginald Doucet Jr., 25, dismissed the commission's finding as one-sided, saying it does not address serious inconsistencies in how Officer Aaron Goff and his partner claimed the early morning shooting occurred Jan. 14.

A trial to decide a wrongful-death lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by Doucet's family is scheduled to begin next month.

Goff, a rookie officer who had been in the field about a year, and his partner, who had five years' experience, responded to an upscale Playa Vista neighborhood to investigate reports of a disturbance and possible theft.

They encountered a naked Doucet, an athletic trainer and model, on the sidewalk.

Although it remains unclear why Doucet had stripped off his clothes, Jamon Hicks, the family's lawyer, said in earlier statements that Doucet had taken a taxi from Hollywood to his apartment and realized he did not have enough money to pay the fare. An argument ensued when Doucet said he would go up to his apartment to retrieve more cash and the taxi driver called police.

At first, Doucet cooperated with the officers and put his hands behind his head as if surrendering, according to a report on the shooting that Police Chief Charlie Beck submitted to the commission.

When Goff attempted to place Doucet in handcuffs, however, he balled his hands into fists, broke the officer's grip on his arm and ran, Beck said in the report.

The chief's report was based largely on statements that Goff and his partner gave to investigators. The officers' names are redacted in the copy of the report provided to The Times, but Goff was identified as the officer who shot Doucet in a news release put out by department after the shooting.

The officers chased Doucet to the entryway of a building, where they tried to convince him to give up, the report states. Again, he ran and managed to flee to the front door of his apartment building, according to the report.

Wanting to catch him before he opened the door, Goff told investigators that he tried to grab Doucet from behind. As he did, Doucet turned and punched Goff in the face, according to the chief's report.

"It was a devastating punch. And I went down right away," Goff told investigators. "I became disoriented.... I thought I was going to lose consciousness for a moment."

Doucet, who stood 6 feet tall and weighed nearly 200 pounds, reportedly struck Goff several more times while the officer was on the ground. Then, with both hands, Doucet grabbed the handle of Goff's gun and tried unsuccessfully to yank it out of its holster.

Goff's partner jumped into the fray. Doucet put him on the ground as well with a punch to the face, then alternated between pummeling the two officers, according to the report.

Goff managed to get up on one knee and, as Doucet turned his attention back toward him, the officer drew his gun and fired two shots at close range, the report states. One of the bullets struck Doucet in the neck, a wound that ultimately proved fatal.

In explaining the decision to open fire, Goff told investigators, "He's beating my head…. I'm going to blackout.… Next time he reaches for my gun, I'm not going to be able to fight back. He's going to get my gun, and he's going to kill us both."

In an interview, Hicks said Goff's version of events doesn't match the bullet wounds Doucet suffered.

He said Los Angeles County coroner's officials concluded during an autopsy that the bullet that hit Doucet's neck traveled in a downward trajectory, which seemingly would not be possible if Goff had been on his knee while shooting.

Hicks did not dispute that Doucet fought with the officers, but denied the LAPD's allegations that Doucet started the physical confrontation or tried to grab Goff's gun.

He also challenged the officers' claims that they were on the verge of blacking out from the blows. Doucet was not drunk or high on PCP, a drug that often gives users unusual levels of strength, the autopsy determined.

The shooting sparked an outcry from Doucet's friends and family, who questioned how an unarmed man could have overwhelmed two police officers. They contend that the officers should have used their nonlethal Taser stun guns to subdue Doucet.

Before reaching its decision, the Police Commission took the unusual step of requesting a more thorough explanation from Beck on several aspects of the shooting, including why the officers did not attempt to use their Tasers.

Beck told the board using a Taser would have been excessive early on in the incident since Doucet had not become violent. Once the fighting began, Doucet's alleged attempts to grab Goff's weapon and the strength of his punches meant deadly force was needed, Beck said.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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