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Policing the police

Editorial

Amid a series of shootings by officers, departments must pursue investigations publicly and forcefully.

January 29, 2013
  • Rosie de la Trinidad, middle, marches with other protesters to demand justice in the shooting death of her husband, Jose de la Trinidad, in Compton.
Rosie de la Trinidad, middle, marches with other protesters to demand justice… (Los Angeles Times )

First there was Kelly Thomas, the unarmed homeless man who was allegedly brutally beaten to death by police in Fullerton. Then there was Manuel Angel Diaz, shot in the back and killed by police last summer in Anaheim, prompting riots and clashes with officers lasting at least three days. And now comes Jose de la Trinidad, who according to a recently released coroner's report was shot by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies five times in the back and once each in the right hip and right forearm. He was not armed.

With gun violence down in Southern California, one would hope that police shootings would follow. And yet these incidents persist, and serve as a reminder that when police shoot and kill civilians, law enforcement agencies must react forcefully and publicly in order to demonstrate that officers are properly using the force they're entrusted to employ.

In the incidents cited above, with the exception of the Thomas case, officers may have had good reason to believe that their targets were armed and that they were protecting the lives of citizens, if not fellow officers. But then, that's the trouble, isn't it? In many officer-involved shootings, public trust in investigations relies on police officers to candidly describe the work of colleagues and on investigators to critique the actions of peers. That would inspire more confidence if we didn't know that police occasionally cover for one another and that even official reports of officer-involved shootings have a way of getting redacted before they make their way to the public.

In De la Trinidad's case, there was apparently a witness. A woman who watched from her nearby bedroom window said the suspect was complying with orders to stop running and put his hands on his head, but deputies say they saw Trinidad reach for his waistband, prompting two to open fire. On Saturday, about 100 people marched through the streets of Compton on De la Trinidad's behalf, a measure of the grief and anger felt by friends and relatives of a father of two who was reported by police to be a known gang member but who also may have found himself on the wrong side of a gun clash by trying to avoid trouble: He had just stepped (or, if you prefer the deputies' version, jumped) out of a car driven by his brother, who was being chased by deputies for speeding.

A host of agencies will now be charged with investigating the shooting, including the district attorney's office, the Sheriff's Department's homicide and internal affairs divisions and its Executive Force Review Committee. We trust them to devote the diligence, honesty and forthrightness to the case that it deserves.

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