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Unarmed man killed by deputies was shot in the back, autopsy says

Jose de la Trinidad of Culver City was shot seven times that November night, all from behind, according to his autopsy report.

January 28, 2013|By Wesley Lowery, Los Angeles Times
(Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

A Culver City man who was fatally shot by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies after a pursuit in November was struck by bullets five times in the back and once each in the right hip and right forearm, also from behind, according to an autopsy report obtained by The Times.

Jose de la Trinidad, a 36-year-old father of two, was killed Nov. 10 by deputies who believed he was reaching for a weapon after a pursuit. But a witness to the shooting said De la Trinidad, who was unarmed, was complying with deputies and had his hands above his head when he was shot.

Multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating the shooting.

De la Trinidad was shot five times in the upper and lower back, according to the Los Angeles County coroner's report dated Nov. 13. The report describes four of those wounds as fatal. He was also shot in the right forearm and right hip, with both shots entering from behind, the report found.

DOCUMENT: Jose de la Trinidad autopsy report

"Here's a man who complied, did what he was supposed to, and was gunned down by trigger-happy deputies," said Arnoldo Casillas, the family's attorney, who provided a copy of the autopsy report to The Times. He said he planned to sue the Sheriff's Department.

A sheriff's official declined to discuss specifics of the autopsy report because of the ongoing investigation. But he emphasized that the report's findings would be included in the department's determination of what happened that night.

"The sheriff and our department extend its condolences to the De la Trinidad" family, said Steve Whitmore, a sheriff's spokesman.

"Deadly force is always a last resort," he said. "The deputies involved were convinced that the public was in danger when they drew their weapons."

On Saturday, relatives of De la Trinidad and about 100 other people marched through the streets of Compton, shouting, "No justice, no peace! No killer police!"

His widow, Rosie de la Trinidad, joined the march with the couple's two young daughters.

"He was doing everything he was supposed to," she said of her husband, fighting back tears. "All we're asking for is justice."

Jose de la Trinidad was shot minutes after leaving his niece's quinceañera with his brother Francisco. He was riding in the passenger seat of his brother's car when deputies tried to pull them over for speeding about 10:20 p.m., authorities said. After a brief car chase, De la Trinidad got out of the car in the 1900 block of East 122nd Street in Compton and was shot by deputies.

The Sheriff's Department maintains that the deputies opened fire only after De la Trinidad appeared to reach for his waist, where he could have been concealing a weapon.

But a woman who witnessed the officer-involved shooting told investigators that De la Trinidad had complied with deputies' orders to stop running and put his hands on his head to surrender when two deputies shot him. The witness said she watched the shooting from her bedroom window across the street.

"I know what I saw," the witness, Estefani — who asked that her last name not be used — said at the time. "His hands were on his head when they started shooting."

According to the deputies' account: De la Trinidad jumped out of the passenger seat. His brother took off again in the car. One of the four deputies on the scene gave chase in his cruiser, leaving De la Trinidad on the sidewalk and three deputies standing in the street with their weapons drawn.

The deputies said De la Trinidad then appeared to reach for his waistband, prompting two of them to fire shots at him. The unarmed man died at the scene.

Unbeknown to the deputies at the time, Estefani watched the scene unfold from her bedroom window. A short while later, she told The Times, two sheriff's deputies canvassing the neighborhood for witnesses came to her door.

The deputies, she said, repeatedly asked her which direction De la Trinidad was facing, which she perceived as an attempt to get her to change her story.

"I told them, 'You're just trying to confuse me,' and then they stopped," she said. Authorities later interviewed Estefani a second time.

Whitmore said the two deputies involved in the shooting were assigned desk duties immediately after the incident but returned to patrol five days later. He said this was standard practice for deputies involved in shootings.

Although such investigations typically take months, Whitmore said the department has given special urgency to this case and hopes to complete its probe in a timely manner.

"We want to have answers about what happened that night soon rather than later," he said. "Even then, we know it doesn't change the grief the family is experiencing."

As with all deputy-involved shootings, De la Trinidad's killing is subject to investigation by the district attorney, the sheriff's homicide and internal affairs bureaus and the Sheriff's Executive Force Review Committee.

wesley.lowery@latimes.com

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