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Eyewitness says Compton teenager killed by deputy held a cellphone, not a gun

Avery Cody's family is suing Los Angeles County in the 16-year-old's shooting death. The Sheriff's Department's official account is that the boy brandished a gun, but court testimony has contradicted that.

February 26, 2011|By Robert Faturechi and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times

A Compton teenager fatally shot in the back by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy in 2009 was not holding a gun, according to the testimony of one eyewitness who sharply contradicted the sheriff's official account of the shooting.

A grainy video of 16-year-old Avery Cody's final moments shows the right-handed teen with an object in his left hand — which his family and friends have said was a cellphone, not the revolver that sheriff's deputies say they recovered at the scene.

Attorneys for Cody's parents, who are suing the county, said Friday's testimony is the second significant inconsistency to arise in the case of the July 2009 shooting. The other was when Deputy Sergio Reyes' account of taking cover behind a metal newspaper rack was contradicted by a surveillance video obtained from a nearby doughnut shop, attorneys said.

"Let's get real here. You wanted to convince the detectives that you were under fire. And so you told them that you took cover behind a blue newspaper rack," said plaintiff's attorney John Sweeney to Reyes during an earlier deposition. "Subsequently you saw the video, and you saw that you came nowhere near that before shooting."

Cody and three other teenagers were walking after lunch at a Compton McDonald's when Reyes and a more veteran deputy stopped the group because the teens were jaywalking, which Cody's attorneys deny. The boys were ordered to lift their shirts so the deputies could check for guns. That's when Cody and another boy bolted.

Sheriff's officials say Cody turned and pointed a handgun at Reyes, prompting the deputy to shoot. A Sheriff's Department spokesman said the shooting was investigated by the department and the deputy was cleared of any policy violations.

A .38-caliber revolver was recovered next to Cody's body, sheriff's officials said. Cody's attorneys say the gun didn't belong to the teenager and have hinted in court that it could have been planted: They have repeatedly alleged that the deputy who recovered the weapon made a trip to his car trunk before discovering it near Cody's body.

Six other witnesses, five of whom were passersby who didn't know Cody, will also testify that they didn't see the teen holding a gun, Sweeney said. The county's attorneys declined to discuss the case outside the courtroom.

Inside the courtroom, though, they poked at the credibility of Terrence Jackson, 18, a friend of Cody who told the jury the object in the slain teen's hand was a cellphone.

According to the deputy's attorneys, Jackson's interview with sheriff's investigators hours after the shooting was inconsistent with his court testimony. Jackson, they say, never initially mentioned that the second deputy on the scene went to his car's trunk before recovering a gun. He also told investigators he ran into Cody at the McDonald's, even though the teenagers had gone there together.

Jackson said he was scared of the detectives and felt as though they were taking the side of the deputy who killed his friend.

Cody's parents are also suing the Sheriff's Department for keeping Reyes on, despite their allegation that he had problems in the past.

Ralph Jackson, 38, a witness on behalf of the Codys who may testify, said the deputy called him a racial epithet in an unrelated 2006 run-in.

Jackson said he and two others were sitting in a car outside Jackson's parents' house in Willowbrook listening to a Lakers game on the radio. Without any warning, Jackson said, the driver's side door of the car was opened from the outside and he was yanked out of the seat by Reyes, who was in full uniform with gun drawn. He said Reyes handcuffed and "manhandled" him, ignoring his pleas to check his ID so he could prove his parents lived across the street.

"I can smoke you right here," Reyes said, according to Jackson. The deputy's attorney denied the allegation.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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