Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Police Commission President John W. Mack's Comments on Tragic Use of Force Incident
Los Angeles: Today, Los Angeles Police Commission President John W. Mack stated the following:
We thank you very much for your patience in waiting. We realize that time is precious for everyone. A decision such as the one we made today does not come easily and we greatly appreciate your patience.
This morning, my fellow Police Commissioners and I completed the long and extremely difficult task of carefully reviewing and making a decision regarding the use of force incident which resulted in the very tragic death of Devin Brown, a 13 year old youth, on February 6, 2005. This has not been an easy task by any stretch of the imagination for anyone, the Commission, our staff, Chief Bratton, LAPD, the African American community, and the entire City.
We all want to thank the members of the Police Department who have conducted a very comprehensive investigation regarding this incident which is unparalleled compared to any other review in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department.
We also want to thank the members of the community for their deep interest and great concern and their personal time devoted at community meetings, and often at our Commission meetings, to share their input and perspective on this incident. We heard you. And, we thank you.
And we want to thank Inspector General Andre Birotte, Jr. for his professionalism and consistent monitoring and oversight of this investigation. He has provided a wealth of crucial information to this Commission and his role cannot be overstated.
And, we also wish to thank the members of the Los Angeles Police Department who devote their expertise to this extremely difficult job on a day in day out basis.
In keeping with the recently adopted Police Commission policy to release summaries of categorical use of force incidents to the public, let me begin by providing a very brief overview of the events that led to this use of force incident.
At 3:45 am on February 6, 2005, LAPD Officers observed a red Toyota Camry on Grand Avenue straddling lanes. When the Toyota ran a red light and went onto the Harbor Freeway, the Officers began to follow the car. On the freeway, the Toyota was straddling traffic lanes and fluctuating speed. The Officers inquired regarding the Toyota's license plate on their Mobile Digital Terminal. The query returned with no wants or warrants on the car. However, a grand theft auto report for the car was simultaneously being processed, but not yet in the Mobile Digital System. The Officers did not know that the Toyota was stolen until after the incident.
Believing that the driver of the Toyota was under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, the Officers activated the emergency lights and siren to conduct a traffic stop. The driver of the Toyota did not stop, exited the freeway on Imperial Highway and began traveling at a high speed.
At 3:49 am, one of the Officers advised Communication Division that the unit was involved in a pursuit, requesting back up and the air unit. The pursuit traversed through several streets and lasted approximately seven minutes. The driver of the Toyota lost control of the vehicle on 83rd Street and Western Avenue as he attempted to make a right turn onto 83rd Street, when the Toyota hit the curb, went up onto the sidewalk, stuck a wrought iron fence, and came to a stop.
The Officers prepared for a high-risk felony stop, positioning themselves behind the open doors of their patrol car with their weapons drawn. At this time, a passenger in the Toyota exited the vehicle and ran away swinging one arm and holding the other close to his waist. One of the Officers believed that the running suspect was clutching a weapon. This suspect was later apprehended and the clutched item was a cell phone.
The driver of the Toyota remained in the car and accelerated the engine putting the car in reverse gear moving toward the patrol car. Both Officers moved rearward fearing that the Toyota would hit the patrol car and that they would be crushed behind their doors.
The Toyota hit the patrol car in the right front fender, maintained contact along the side of the patrol car, and continued toward one of the Officers. That Officer, believing he was about to be struck, fired 10 shots at Devin Brown, the driver of the Toyota. Seven of the shots struck Devin Brown, causing his death.
And that is a very short, very abridged overview of the incident which is one of the saddest tragedies in Los Angeles for a family and for all of us. Completely unknown to the Officers, the driver of the Toyota was a 13 year-old boy, Devin Brown.
The investigation of this incident has been the most extensive and intensive in the history of the LAPD. The technology applied to this investigation has been state of the art. Laser positioning, animation and other cutting-edge analysis tools were employed to provide a comprehensive reenactment and documentation of the events that occurred that night.
This incident changed the course of the Department on several levels. In an on-going effort, the Department is always striving to achieve best practices in policing by looking at ways to improve tactics and policies. To that end, and ten days following the incident, the previous Police Commission changed the policy related to shooting at or from a moving vehicle. The new policy prohibits this action, yet it allows the officer the opportunity to protect himself or herself if their life is in danger. In addition, the new policy directs the officer to move out of the path of a moving vehicle.
This incident also resulted in additional training for all police officers regarding tactics to be utilized at the end of a pursuit. Previously, officers were trained to assume a protected position behind the open door of a patrol car when a pursuit comes to an end. However, the actions of a pursuit suspect are unpredictable, and in the event the suspect reverses the car into the patrol car, officers could be crushed by the doors of the patrol car. Officers are now trained to move away from the patrol car.
The Department now utilizes the Pursuit Intervention Technique, which is essentially the corner bumping of the suspect's car by the patrol car to turn and stop the suspect's car. The use of spike strips is now also a viable solution to end a pursuit.
The Department is now also preparing to select a vendor who will provide approximately 25 shooting simulator devices which will be distributed to all 19 police areas and training facilities. These devices will assist in the training of Officers with a variety of scenarios.
Finally, this incident has changed lives for ever, as heartbreaking tragedies always do. The sadness of this incident cannot be overstated. For those of us who are blessed with children, the loss of a child is unimaginable. We all share in this loss and tragedy.
As in all Categorical Use of Force cases, the Police Commission receives a recommendation from the Chief of Police in three categories: 1) tactics; 2) drawing of the weapon; and 3) the use of force. The Police Commission then reviews, evaluates, and determines the appropriateness of the three aspects of the incident.
I am confident that I can speak for my fellow Commissioners, that our review of this case has been exhaustive, conclusive and has left no stone unturned. Personally, this has been one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. But in the end, I feel, as my fellow Commissioners do, that each of us made our decisions based on our best understanding and careful objective analysis of the facts, without prejudging the actions or motives of the officer.
As it relates to the tactics in this incident, the Police Commission found that the tactics employed by the officers were in policy, formal training for one officer and divisional training for five officers. The vote was unanimous.
DRAWING OF THE WEAPON
Relating to the drawing of the weapon, the Police Commission found that the drawing of the weapon was in policy by a unanimous vote.
USE OF FORCE
Regarding the use of force, or firing of the weapon, the Police Commission found that the use of force was out of policy, Administrative Disapproval, by a four/one vote. Commissioners Mack, Freeman, Ordin and Pacheco voted "aye," and Commissioner Skobin voted "nay."
Consistent with the law Department policy, disciplinary matters for this case will now be determined by Chief Bratton.
Consistent with the Police Commission's new policy, effective January 1, 2006, the Inspector General's abridged summary of this incident will be available on LAPDOnline.org as soon as possible.
Pursuant to California law, my fellow Commissioners and I, along with those who were present in the closed session meetings, are unable to divulge any of the information discussed during those meetings, including our justification leading to our individual decisions.
On behalf of my colleagues, I request that the impacted community accept and respect the decision process. It is a very tragic chapter in the history of the City of Los Angeles and of the LAPD. We have learned from this tragedy and we will seek new policies, procedures and practices designed to prevent another heartbreaking similar incident.