Review panel: 2 LAPD officers violated policy in shooting suicidal man

Two Los Angeles police officers broke department guidelines by fatally shooting a possibly suicidal man armed with a knife, according to the Police Commission, which agreed with Chief Michel Moore’s assessment that the man posed no immediate threat to any of the presented to both officials.

A review of the December shooting of 22-year-old Margarito Lopez Jr. in the Historic South-Central neighborhood found that Lopez did not pose a sufficient threat at the time of his shooting to warrant the use of deadly force. The commission considered the case in camera at its weekly meeting on Tuesday; it voted unanimously to approve the findings of the chief’s report.

The shooting happened on December 18 as police responded to an apartment building in historic South-Central. Lopez’s sister had called 911 because she was concerned her brother might injure himself.

Lopez had been acting erratically since returning home earlier that day, eventually pulling out a butcher knife and going outside, his family previously told the Times.

The first officer to arrive at the scene was a gang sergeant who had driven by when he was stopped by two people. He found Lopez sitting on the front steps of the building on East Adams Boulevard with a 6-inch butcher knife pressed against his neck.

This officer was eventually joined by others, and for almost 10 minutes they shouted orders at Lopez to drop the knife in English and Spanish. They drew their handguns and trained their cruiser lights on Lopez, who appeared unresponsive, according to body camera footage of the encounter.

At one point, Lopez held the knife to his throat and used his other hand to make the sign of the cross on his chest, prompting one of the officers to fire a less-than-lethal projectile at him. The impact didn’t cause Lopez to drop the knife, but he sat back down on the steps.

Lopez sat for several minutes, head down, holding the knife between his knees, according to the chief. Then he suddenly jumped up, causing his hat to fly off. He took four steps toward an officer holding a 40-millimeter projectile launcher, then turned left.

The officer shot him with a 40mm round designed to incapacitate people without killing them. Almost simultaneously, two other officers fired their guns.

Lopez was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. A toxicology report revealed the presence of “benzodiazepines, cannabinoids and ethanol” in his bloodstream at the time of his death.

The episode continued a pattern of shootings in which a group of LAPD officers simultaneously fired handguns and weapons intended to avoid killing, such as projectile launchers and tasers. A Times review of nearly 50 LAPD shootings between 2020 and earlier this year found at least eight such incidents.

The department’s investigation revealed that Officer José Zavala fired three rounds at Lopez while his partner Julio Quintanilla fired once.

Investigators considered the perception of the two officers, but a review of body camera video of the encounter showed that Margarito “did not have any apparent intent to harm either officer,” according to Moore’s report.

In an interview with Force Review investigators, Zavala said Lopez’s erratic behavior in the minutes leading up to the shooting caused him to “believe the situation could escalate to a point where deadly force might be warranted,” according to sources it in the report.

“I was afraid, sir. I thought this guy was going to come at me with that butcher knife. He’s already cut his hand. He cut his throat — he tried to cut his throat,” Zavala said, according to excerpts from the interview.

But a Use of Force Review Board disagreed, concluding that while Quintanilla and Zavala may well have feared for their own lives — as well as those of their colleagues and civilians who stood nearby — their “fear ultimately also rested on the probability.” based on future damage, not an immediate mortal threat.”

“The board also said they had no apparent intention or opportunity to harm citizens as officers controlled foot traffic,” the report reads. “Based on the totality of the circumstances, the Board determined that Officer Zavala’s use of deadly force in all three rounds was not objectively appropriate, proportionate or necessary.”

In October, Lopez’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and the two officers, alleging that they used excessive force and then failed to provide Lopez with adequate medical care.

At a press conference after the lawsuit was filed, Lopez’s sister said she called 911 to seek help for her brother because she thought he was in the middle of a mental health crisis. “I don’t want any other family to go through this,” another sister, Juana, told reporters in Spanish.

Lopez was the youngest of 10 children and was less than 5 feet tall. His family said he dreamed of becoming a singer and often danced on the front steps of his house.

A call seeking comment from the family’s attorney was not immediately answered on Wednesday.

Nathan Solis, a Times contributor, contributed to this report. Review panel: 2 LAPD officers violated policy in shooting suicidal man

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