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LAPD Officers in Downtown Have Shot or Used Force on Four People So Far This Year

[dropcap size=big]'C[/dropcap]ritical Incident' is the latest LAPD buzzword to define officer involved shootings or incidents that involve use-of-force and result in a death or serious injury, and law enforcement in L.A. has been responsible for four critical incidents so far this year.

LAPD’s Central Division, the bureau that covers the downtown area, has been responsible for all of the reported critical incidents so far this year. Late last week, the LAPD released video footage of three out of four of the critical incidents that occurred in February 2019 on the department’s YouTube channel.

Central Division was responsible for three critical incidents in just three days between February 12-14, including two unrelated shootings that occurred less than four hours and 1.5 miles apart from one another, on Valentines Day. In addition, another incident occurred on February 26.

This spike for Central Division is significant. It was involved in only one out of 39 total critical incidents in 2018 and two critical incidents out of 42 in 2017, according to the official LAPD website.

Under a year-old transparency law, the LAPD is required to release video footage of incidents by 60 days after they happen, but a lot of the public never sees this footage. The reports released last week are brief and feel “produced,” more similar to a news segment rather than a raw-look at what happened, and still leave questions about what lead up to the events that required police officers to use force.

Notably, the names of the officers involved in each shooting are not released in the LAPD's community briefing videos.

On February 12, a police officer stopped in the middle of southbound traffic on the 101 near Alameda Street, around 3:30pm, to arrest a man walking on the shoulder of the freeway.

In cell phone footage from a distant driver stuck in worse-than-usual traffic on the 101, we see a CHP officer conducting CPR on Oscar Rojas. The video jumps straight to the middle of the crisis with no beginning or ending. Rojas reportedly became unconscious when he was tackled to the ground by the CHP officer after “resisting arrest.”

The suspect was tackled and subsequently stopped breathing. He was airlifted to a hospital and pronounced dead later. LAPD later discovered what they described as a “golfball size” amount of Meth on Rojas. It’s unclear what lead Rojas becoming unconscious.

Arrests for walking on a freeway increased last quarter by 75 percent for some residents. The Rojas incident on the 101 illustrates how the increase in simple citations like walking outside of a crosswalk or a bicycle violation can escalate into a deadly situation.

RELATED: Valentine’s Day Police Killing ~ One Dead After Separate LAPD Officer Involved Shootings

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he shooting involving an off-duty detective in Skid Row is even more questionable. A detective with the 77th Police Division was reportedly staying in an AirBnB to participate in training downtown. In the early hours of the morning of February 14, the detective was reportedly out drinking at a bar. At 3:25 am he got into a street fight with Michael Wise, 30, near 6th and San Julian.

The fight lasted minutes before Wise ended up shot in the lower torso and the detective was injured so badly, one of the 911 callers thought he had been shot in the head. The caller also noted that the detective had a gun on him, but when LAPD arrived on the scene they couldn’t find it.

The detective that was injured in the fight didn’t reveal his status with law enforcement at the time and was transported to a hospital. Wise was transported to a separate hospital and survived his injuries. Days later, the detective’s pistol was found in a neighboring city, LAPD said.

Footage of the off-duty detective and Michael Wise altercation is extremely difficult to make out due to the rain that built up on the lens of the surveillance camera and proximity of the camera. And 911 calls are edited and LAPD only provide one of several calls that came in.

Hours later at around 6:55 am, a 47 year old male approached Metro employees with a pocketknife and was fatally shot by LAPD at the Metro station near 7th and Hill. That man's name was Wilfredo Hernandez. Video footage from the mezzanine platform on the 7th and Metro Street Station (the Expo Line Side) opens just seconds before Hernandez walks into frame, crossing the turnstile while brandishing what LAPD described as a “pocket knife.”

The video cuts between two cameras (rather than letting the cameras run simultaneously in real-time). Most of the scene plays out on the upper edge of the frame, making it difficult to read the confrontation. Less than a minute into the footage though, it’s clear that Hernandez is on the ground. He was pronounced dead on the scene.

Video footage is usually released around 45 days after an incident occurs on the LAPD’s official YouTube channel, said an LAPD officer investigating the Hernandez shooting. The reports are far from a final verdict, though.

Instead, they function as a progress report to give the public a glimpse into certain aspects of an investigation. Investigations can go on for up to 18 months before any final conclusions are drawn and the entire case is opened up to public information requests. Until then, law enforcement can deny requests if “the public interest served by nondisclosure clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure” or simply because a crime is “under investigation.”

The Hernandez fatal shooting raises questions about the effectiveness of LAPD tasers. In the video provided by LAPD, Captain Gisselle Espinoza says that one of officers, “attempted to use his taser on Hernandez, which had no effect, Hernandez then charged one of the officers while still holding the knife, as the officer backed away and that is when the officer shot Hernandez.” A 2016 LAPD report found that out of 36 instances of police using tasers, a quarter of them resulted in death or injury.

Finally, on Feb. 26, another critical incident with an unnamed suspect in DTLA on 5th Street and went largely unreported by local media. Information about that incident has not yet been provided by law enforcement at all.

At this time, the LAPD hasn’t released any video footage of the incident that occurred near the 300 block of 5th Street in downtown. That incident went unreported by local media and the details of what happened have not yet been made public. There is no record of an OIS that resulted in a death on February 26, according to the medical examiner.

Credit: City of Los Angeles

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he LAPD's new practice of releasing these video reports is due to SB 1421, a groundbreaking August 2018 ruling that requires law enforcement to disclose information about police shootings, use of force, sexual assault, and confirmed cases of lying to the public. Before the ruling, it was nearly impossible to obtain reports on police misconduct, even for prosecutors.

For the public, SB1421 is a step in the right direction in terms of holding police more accountable, but provisions in the bill also protect law enforcement by giving them the ability to decide what they share and what’s left on the cutting-room floor. Even once the facts are revealed though, the likelihood of an investigation leading to prosecution is slim.

Out of 1500 officer shootings between 2000-2018, none were prosecuted.

RELATED: After Standoff with Mom, LAPD Arrest Brother of Grechario Mack, Who Was Killed in Officer-Involved Shooting

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