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Family of man shot by sheriff's deputies calls for FBI probe

The family says a witness saw Jose de la Trinidad with his hands behind his head when L.A. County deputies shot and killed him. Officials say deputies thought the man was reaching for his waistband when they fired.

November 20, 2012|By Wesley Lowery, Los Angeles Times
  • Natalie de la Trinidad hugs Sofia de la Trinidad, right, the mother of Jose de la Trinidad, who was shot and killed Nov. 10.
Natalie de la Trinidad hugs Sofia de la Trinidad, right, the mother of Jose… (Francine Orr, Los Angeles…)

The family of an Inglewood man gunned down by L.A. County sheriff's deputies this month is requesting an FBI probe of the shooting and subsequent investigation by the Sheriff's Department.

Jose de la Trinidad, 36, was shot and killed by deputies Nov. 10, just minutes after leaving his niece's quinceanera with his older brother.

After police attempted to pull the older brother over for speeding, he sped off. After pleading with his brother to stop, Jose de la Trinidad was let out of the car in the 1900 block of East 122nd Street in Willowbrook, family members said.

There the unarmed man was shot and killed by deputies. But there is some dispute over what happened in those seconds before deputies opened fire.

Sheriff's Department officials said the deputies believed Jose de la Trinidad was reaching for his waistband and, fearing he had a weapon, used necessary force.

The slain man's family, however, said that a 19-year-old woman who witnessed the shooting from her bedroom window reported that she saw De la Trinidad with his hands behind his head before shots were fired.

The family's attorney, Luis Carrillo, said the witness heard the older brother's car screech to a stop and then watched Jose de la Trinidad get out of the vehicle.

"When they told him to stop, his hands went up behind his head and he kept them there," the witness told a private investigator working for Carrillo, according to a transcript of interview notes read to The Times.

Carrillo said the witness, whom he did not identify, was pressured to change her story by sheriff's deputies who were going door-to-door that night looking for information on the shooting.

"It's the classic 'He was reaching for his waistband' defense that is used any time an officer shoots an unarmed man," Carrillo said. "They tried to get her to change her story."

Sheriff's officials sharply reject the accusation and said that, as of Monday, they had yet to speak with any witnesses.

"It's a curious accusation because how can we intimidate people who we have not yet spoken to?" said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman of the Sheriff's Department.

Despite Carrillo's claims that uniformed deputies were going door-to-door seeking witness statements the night of the shooting, Whitmore insisted that no witness interviews were conducted that night.

Sheriff's officials have released few details about the shooting and say the incident will be investigated by multiple agencies, which is standard protocol for deputy-involved shootings.

Officials at the FBI office in Los Angeles said they have not decided wither the accusations merit an investigation.

The driver, who family members believe may have been intoxicated after a night of celebrating, sped off again before crashing his vehicle at the intersection of El Segundo and Avalon boulevards. He ran away but was apprehended by deputies.

On Monday, as more than a dozen family members huddled in a South Pasadena law office, Carrillo and De la Trinidad's widow, Rosie, demanded answers. His mother, Sofia de la Trinidad, seemed overwhelmed by the moment. "Mi hijo, mi hijo," she said, sobbing.

"I just don't know what I'm going to do, I still can't believe this has happened," the widow said. Making plans for a funeral and consoling her two daughters has left little time to process her husband's death, she said.

Family friends have set up a memorial fund in De la Trinidad's name at Wells Fargo Bank. They hope it will cover the costs of a private memorial ceremony planned for this week.

"He was the breadwinner," his wife said, fighting tears. "I don't even know how am I going to bury him."

wesley.lowery@latimes.com

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