LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles police sergeant and five officers broke department policy when they opened fire last year on an armed man who refused to follow officers’ commands, killing him, a police commission found.
The Board of Police Commissioners voted on May 23 to approve a Los Angeles Police Department internal investigation into the fatal shooting of Rodolfo Torres on July 2, 2022, that found the officers’ use of force was not reasonable or necessary.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said in his internal investigation report to the commission that four other officers who opened fire on Torres were within policy. Two other officers who responded to the scene did not fire their weapons.
On the day of the fatal shooting, two officers were patrolling South Los Angeles when they came upon Torres, 30, who seemed to be under the influence of drugs and had a bulge in his clothing resembling a gun, Moore wrote. One of the officers believed he recognized Torres as someone involved in the illegal sales and manufacturing of firearms, the police chief said.
One of the officers saw what he believed to be the “butt” of a handgun concealed in Torres’ jacket pocket and ordered him to stop and get his hands out of his pockets, Moore wrote. But he ignored their commands and instead started walking away from them, he wrote.
The officers pursued him on foot for several blocks using a patrol vehicle as a cover and called for backup, according to the chief’s report.
In trying to detain him, an officer shot him once with a hard foam projectile and Torres fell to the ground and a gun fell out of his pocket, Moore wrote. When Torres picked the gun back up, the 10 officers opened fire, firing 31 rounds at Torres within three seconds, according to Moore’s report. Some officers told internal investigators they saw Torres point the gun at them, others said they saw him raise the gun.
Torres was taken to a hospital where he died.
Officers recovered a loaded .40-caliber pistol with no serial number and an extended magazine. They also recovered another extended magazine, a .9mm AR-style pistol and a 50-round drum magazine inside a backpack Torres was carrying, the police chief wrote.
Moore wrote that while he understood Sgt. Christopher Burke and Officers Jose Rodriguez, Kyle Bender, James Stea, Israel Florez and Chad Fillinger faced a difficult situation and there were issues with Burke’s command of the situation as supervisor, there were other designated covered officers “who were better positioned to address the lethal threat.”
“Therefore, I have determined that Officers Rodriguez, Bender, Stea, Florez, and Fillinger’s use of lethal force was not proportional, objectively reasonable, or necessary,” he wrote.
Moore also said in his report that Burke didn’t need to fire his service weapon and should have stayed back and assigned clear roles to the officers.
“The Board noted that Sergeant Burke was expected to take an active leadership role and reduce the overall intensity of the incident,” Moore wrote. “However, Sergeant Burke appeared overly involved in Torres’ actions, which seemed to limit his ability to effectively manage his personnel.”
The board of directors for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, a union for officers, said in a statement that “the officers followed their training to try and keep the public and themselves safe.”
“The responding officers fired their weapons because they all saw the suspect raise his gun after repeatedly ignoring verbal warnings in English and Spanish to show his hands and after other less lethal de-escalation tactics were deployed,” the statement said.
Moore will now recommend discipline for the officers and sergeant. If he suggests a lengthy suspension or dismissal, the recommendations will automatically go to a Board of Rights proceeding. The results remain confidential under the LAPD’s interpretation of state law.