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LAPD civilian commission overrules chief, calls shooting wrong

A Los Angeles police officer shot and killed Steven Washington, a 27-year-old black man on March 20, 2010. Washington, who was autistic, died of a single gunshot wound to the head. Washington, who was not armed, was shot while walking in the 800 block of South Vermont Avenue in Koreatown.

After a lengthy internal investigation, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck recommended that the civilian commission that oversees his department rule the shooting justified. The commission disagreed.

Times reporter Joel Rubin, who covers the LAPD, obtained a redacted version of Beck's report. An excerpt of his story begins below. What do you think of the opposing conclusions drawn by the commission and the chief?

-- Megan Garvey

The civilian commission that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department has taken the rare step of rejecting a recommendation from the department's chief, ruling that two police officers were wrong when they fatally shot an unarmed autistic man last year.

Police Chief Charlie Beck concluded after a lengthy internal investigation that the officers made serious tactical mistakes during the brief, late-night encounter, but ultimately were justified in using deadly force against Steven Eugene Washington, 27.

About midnight on March 20, Officers Allan Corrales and George Diego, who worked in an anti-gang unit, were driving in a marked patrol car along Vermont Avenue in the city's Koreatown neighborhood. Both officers told investigators they heard a loud noise — one described it as a "deep boom" — behind them, according to Beck's report on the incident.

The Times obtained a redacted version of the report, which conceals the officers' names. Because of the redactions it is not possible to tell what role each officer played in the shooting.

Looking behind them, the officers saw Washington walking on the sidewalk in the opposite direction. They turned the car around and drove slowly behind him. The officer in the passenger seat rolled down his window and called out to the man, the report said. The officer told investigators Washington turned toward him, gave him a "hard" look, then reached into the waistband area of his pants, according to the report.

The officer who was driving pulled up alongside Washington. From a few feet away, his partner saw a dark object tucked into Washington's waistband and, convinced it was a gun, drew his own weapon and pointed it at the man, according to the report.

Washington, according to the officers' account in the report, turned abruptly and began to walk directly toward the patrol car as the driving officer brought the car to a stop. The officer in the passenger seat told investigators Washington had a "blank stare" as if in a daze and ignored orders to raise his hands.

From the car, the officer fired a single shot, then ducked down below the window. The shot struck Washington in the head.

Washington had no weapon.

Read more: Police Commission overrules chief, says LAPD shooting was wrong

Photo: Members of Steven Washington's family grieve last year. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

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