A Los Angeles police officer acted lawfully when he fatally shot a knife-wielding Guatemalan day laborer last year in an encounter that triggered days of unrest, the LAPD's oversight body ruled Tuesday.
Bracing for the possibility that the ruling by the Los Angeles Police Commission could ignite another round of violent protests in the Westlake neighborhood where the man was shot, LAPD officials preemptively dispatched a large contingent of officers to the area in the hours before the decision was announced.
[Updated at 1:07 p.m.: The scene of the shooting was quiet after the ruling was announced, but the Southern California Immigration Coalition planned to hold a rally there at 5 p.m. to protest the ruling.
Marcelino Ponce, a security guard, was taking a stroll along 6th Street and Union Avenue on Tuesday afternoon when he heard about the commission's ruling. He only partially agreed.
"I think both were at fault," said the 45-year-old, who lives down the street from where the shooting happened. "The man should have listened to the authorities, and the authorities shouldnt have taken that kind of action."
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the officers' union, released a statement commending the commission and Beck for "looking at the facts ... and standing behind the officers who protected the community from an intoxicated, knife-wielding man."
"If you don't want to get shot by a police officer, don't try to stab one with a knife," union leaders said in the statement.]
The killing occurred on a Sunday afternoon in September, when Officer Frank Hernandez, a 13-year veteran assigned to a bicycle unit in the LAPD's Rampart Division, responded to a report of a man threatening passers-by with a knife.
At the corner of 6th Street and Union Avenue in the heart of the densely populated Latino immigrant neighborhood, Hernandez and two other officers encountered 37-year-old Manuel Jamines. Jamines, according to the LAPD's account of the encounter, was drunk, armed with a knife and threatening passers-by. Hernandez, police said, ordered Jamines in Spanish and English to drop the weapon and fired at him when the man made a sudden movement toward the officers.
A knife was recovered at the scene, police said. Several eyewitnesses interviewed by investigators supported the officers' account of the incident, according to police.
Some other witnesses, however, came forward to say they had not seen Jamines wielding a knife.
The shooting triggered a few days of protests and some rioting in the neighborhood, some of it instigated by anti-police groups that worked to stoke anger among the area's residents.
Many protesters questioned why the officers hadn't used a stun gun or some other nonlethal weapon to subdue Jamines. Their suspicion grew when it was learned that Hernandez had been involved in a controversial shooting once before.
He was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing in that case. Jamines' own identity came into question. Coroner's officials later identified him as Manuel Ramirez based on a fingerprint match with U.S. Department of Justice records.
They also found U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement documentation identifying him as Gregorio Luis Perez.
Hoping to calm the tensions that frayed after the shooting, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck promised to fast-track the department's investigation and adjudication of the shooting, which typically would have taken about a year to complete.
Beck recently presented the commission, a civilian panel that oversees the department, with his final report on the shooting, which included his recommendation on whether Hernandez had been justified in using deadly force.
After reviewing the investigation material and hearing from their own team of investigators, the five-person commission could have overruled Beck had they decided the evidence pointed to an unjustified use of deadly force.