LOS ANGELES – The police officer who shot and killed a knife-wielding man whose death has sparked three days of violent protests in Los Angeles had been involved in two previous shootings while on duty, according to a media report.
The story on the Los Angeles Times website came as hundreds of people returned to the streets for a third night of protests over the fatal shooting of Manuel Jamines, 37, sporadically throwing rocks and bottles at officers and setting scattered rubbish fires.
Earlier Wednesday evening, Chief Charlie Beck faced an angry crowd at a community meeting intended to quell the violence.
Citing police officials and records, the Times said that Officer Frank Hernandez, a 13-year department veteran, shot a female robbery victim in 1999 when the woman allegedly pointed a handgun at Hernandez and his partner and refused orders to drop the weapon. Her injury was not life-threatening.
ln 2008, the Times reported Hernandez shot an 18-year-old assault suspect who tried to flee, then pointed a gun at Hernandez and another officer. Hernandez shot the man once, wounding him.
Police Chief Charlie Beck voiced support for Hernandez in an interview with the Times. Citing privacy laws, Beck would not discuss the past shootings or any details of Hernandez's personnel file. He told the Times that Hernandez's performance should not come under suspicion because of previous shootings.
Det. Gus Villanueva said he had no immediate comment when reached by The Associated Press early Thursday.
At the community meeting, a crowd of more than 300 packed a school in the Westlake neighborhood where Jamines was shot to death Sunday by Hernandez after he allegedly lunged toward the officer with a switchblade.
The crowd jeered Beck when he defended officers by reading a witness's account of how Jamines threatened her.
Beck said the witness, a neighborhood resident who was not named, told three bicycle officers that a man with blood on his hands tried to stab her and pregnant woman next to her.
As the woman ran away, she heard the three officers telling the suspect to drop the knife, then she heard three or four shots, turned around and saw Jamines on the sidewalk, Beck said.
"She referred to the officers as her angels who had descended from heaven to save her life and that of the pregnant lady," Beck said.
The crowd exploded when they heard the witness's account. One man in the audience called out that the story sounded like it was made up in Hollywood.
Beck and city officials scheduled the meeting to counter rumors and reach out to residents of the central Los Angeles neighborhood where Jamines was shot.
Sunday's killing turned into a rallying point as community members, aided by outsiders, took to the streets three consecutive nights and used the death to highlight past injustices and vent ongoing frustrations.
Police have defended the killing and said they've been taken aback by the high emotions following what looked like a clear-cut case of justifiable use of force. Each year, the LAPD is involved in up to about 40 shootings; those that typically cause controversy involve unarmed or surrendered suspects.
Residents outraged over the killing have said the top brass should have handled the situation differently and say department officials' surprise shows the agency is out of touch with the people.
Authorities have said the bicycle officers told Jamines in Spanish and English to put down the weapon. Instead, Jamines raised the knife above his head and lunged at Officer Frank Hernandez, a 13-year veteran of the department, said Capt. Kris Pitcher, who heads the LAPD's Force Investigation Division.
Hernandez shot Jamines twice in the head. He died at the scene. Several witnesses later told police Jamines had been drinking.
Juan Barillas, a member of the Union de Guatemaltecos Emigrantes, told the crowd at Wednesday's meeting that Jamines spoke neither English nor Spanish. Instead, he spoke Quiche, a Mayan dialect, Barillas said.
"They could have used pepper spray or a Taser gun," said Salvador Sanabria, executive director of the nonprofit community group El Rescate. "The community ... reacted this way because they thought there was another way to deal with a drunk guy."
Pitcher said Jamines was an illegal immigrant from Guatemala. The day laborer was carrying a switchblade knife with a serrated, 3-inch blade. The police captain pledged an open and transparent investigation into the shooting.
The other officers involved were Steven Rodriguez and Paris Pineda, both five-year veterans of the department. All the officers were Latino and speak Spanish.
Police said the knife was covered in blood, and DNA tests were being carried out to determine whose it was. Officers received unconfirmed reports Jamines may have attacked someone before police arrived, Pitcher said.
The officers involved were placed on administrative leave, a standard move after shootings.
Protesters who gathered outside the local police station Tuesday night pelted officers with eggs, rocks and bottles and set a trash bin on fire. Others dropped household items from apartment buildings. Officers fired at least two rounds of foam projectiles at demonstrators and arrested 22 people, mainly for failure to disperse and unlawful assembly.
A night earlier, three officers were slightly injured by thrown objects and four people were arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor inciting a riot.
The LAPD has long struggled with image problems in poorer communities.
On May 1, 2007, police pummeled immigration rights marchers and reporters with batons and shot rubber bullets into the crowd. The city was gripped by widespread riots in 1992 after four white officers were acquitted of the videotaped beating of Rodney King, a black motorist.
Beck said the recent protests were the culmination of a variety of frustrations, including a terrible economy and a feeling of victimization among immigrants who say the U.S. population likes to blame them for many of society's shortcomings.
He also blamed activist groups, including the Revolutionary Communist Party, for co-opting peaceful vigils and inciting violent protests. Attempts to reach an RCP spokesman were not immediately successful.