Civilian Panel Clears LA Police Officer in Immigrant Death

A Los Angeles police officer who killed a Guatemalan immigrant last year – sparking days of protest – was justified in the killing, the Police Commission ruled Tuesday.

The civilian oversight board decision could renew unrest in the Latino community, but there were no immediate reports of problems.

The commission accepted an internal report by the LAPD that concluded the Sept. 5 killing of Manuel Jaminez was a proper use of lethal force.

An independent review by Inspector General Nicole C. Bershon also determined the shooting was in line with department policy, Police Commission President John W. Mack said.

"I'm confident, when I speak on behalf of my fellow commissioners, that our review of the case has been exhaustive, conclusive and has left no stone unturned," Mack said. "This has been a long, particularly difficult and sad incident for all involved."

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Even before the commission announced its findings, police were mobilizing to face possible new protests, and at least one immigration activist group was calling for a rally at an intersection near MacArthur Park, where Jaminez died.

"We cannot allow the LAPD to murder yet another migrant from our community!" the Southern California Immigration Coalition said in a statement.

About two dozen people gathered for the rally.

A Los Angeles attorney for the family of Jaminez in Guatemala, which is suing the Police Department, said he was disappointed but not surprised.

"The script was already written," lawyer Luis A. Carrillo said.

Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the investigation was thorough and unbiased.

At a news conference, they called for calm and noted that since the incident, police have moved to improve relations with the Guatemalan community in the area where the shooting occurred. Many of the residents speak indigenous dialects and little Spanish or English.

"Be peaceful. Let's not take a step backward," Beck said.

The district attorney's office also announced Tuesday it had concluded last week that Officer Frank Hernandez acted in self-defense and declined to file criminal charges.

Police said Jaminez, 37, a day laborer, had been drinking and tried to stab a pregnant woman and other passers-by before Hernandez, a bicycle officer, shot him near MacArthur Park. A police report said he lunged toward an officer after refusing orders in Spanish and English to drop the knife.

Beck said six witnesses told police they saw Jaminez with the knife and other witnesses said they heard the officer order him to drop the weapon.

DNA testing showed blood found on the knife belonged to Jaminez, which Beck said proved he had held it.

The chief also underscored that Jaminez rushed toward the officer, holding his knife in a stabbing position, and was 12 feet in front of Hernandez when the officer fired.

Hernandez was in a "defense of life" situation, he said, adding "I would never ask them to shoot a knife out of somebody's hand."

Three days of sometimes violent protests were held by activists and immigrants who didn't believe the police version of events or felt that non-lethal force should have been used.

The killing touched a nerve in the Westlake community, a poor and densely packed enclave of Central Americans immigrants who are often suspicious of police.

The Police Commission's decision doesn't help to bridge that "gap of distrust," said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

The group planned to ask the U.S. Justice Department to start a civil rights investigation, he said.

The commission decision had been expected, especially since prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against the officer.

Paul M. Weber, head of the police officers' union, applauded the ruling.

"As we have said repeatedly, when individuals threaten police officers with a deadly weapon, they alone are responsible for the consequences of their actions," Weber said.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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