Photos by __Michelle Groskopf
This past year saw a lot of anger over police brutality. In July, people were angry about the death of Eric Garner. In August, people were angry about the death of Michael Brown. In the past month, decisions to not indict cops in either of those deaths—and a couple other high-profile police shootings—have resulted in protests all over the country.
Los Angeles, where I live, witnessed its fair share of police shootings and violence, and I wanted to learn more about them than I could from simply reading the news—I wanted to understand the context in which these men (the victims were all male) had died. So along with a photographer, I visited five sites where LAPD officers killed unarmed civilians in 2014, and two involving Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies—I think these are all the spots where such deaths occurred, but as others have pointed out this year, reliable sources of data for these kinds of fatalities is hard to come by.
For some reason I suspected that these locations would disproportionately be in low-income neighborhoods with high concentrations of black and Hispanic residents. Turns out I was right.
April 10: Palm Avenue off Santa Monica, West Hollywood – John Winkler
On the evening of April 10, LA County sheriff's deputies were searching for a man who was holding several people hostage in a West Hollywood apartment building. Thirty-year-old John Winkler was one of those hostages. He had heard a commotion from his neighbor's apartment, gone over to see what was the matter, and ended up a hostage himself. When Winkler and another victim fled the apartment, the deputies shot Winkler in the chest, mistakenly believing him to be the suspect. They also shot the other victim, but not fatally. Winkler and died later at a nearby hospital.
July 25: 6700 block of Hayvenhurst Avenue in Van Nuys – Luis Jobell
Around 3:30 AM, police responded to a disturbance call about a man allegedly throwing rocks and vandalizing property. The officers stated that when they arrived on the scene, Jobell was indeed throwing rocks, though they did not say at what or whom. The officers reported that they shot Jobell after he refused to surrender. It is unclear what happened in the moments immediately leading up to the shooting. Witnesses said they saw three men arguing and kicking cars, then heard several gunshots and police sirens. The dead man's brother Victor believed Jobell, who had been arrested earlier in the week for disobeying an ex-wife's restraining order, was drunk at the time of the incident. LAPD Sergeant. Albert Gonzalez told KTLA that "a rock can be a very deadly weapon."
August 1: 9000 block of Rosehedge Drive in Pico Rivera – Frank Al Mendoza
Around 5 PM, police were searching for 24-year-old Cedric Oscar Ramirez, who was wanted on felony warrants for vehicle theft and being a felon in possession of a firearm. In his attempt to flee the deputies, Ramirez broke into Mendoza's house. When the 54-year-old Mendoza appeared at the door, a deputy mistook him for Ramirez and shot him twice. Mendoza was pronounced dead at the scene. Ramirez took Mendoza's wife hostage, and around 1:30 AM, police fatally shot Ramirez.
August 2: 6900 block of South Main Street – Omar Abrego
Thirty-seven-year-old Omar Abrego was driving home in the evening after work when he was pulled over for driving erratically. According to a statement issued by the LAPD, Abrego then "attempted to flee," and a physical altercation with the cops ensued. The altercation left one officer with a broken hand, and Abrego with "a severe concussion and multiple facial and body contusions," according to the Los Angeles Times. Abrego was transported to a local hospital, where he died early the next morning. An initial coroner's report suggested that Abrego was on cocaine at the time of the incident. As of November, the LAPD still hadn't released Abrego's autopsy results, so an official cause of death is still not known. Eyewitnesses described seeing officers beating Abrego with their fists and with a baton. "They were beating him real bad," Omar's brother Yair Abrego told KTLA. "He died of the wounds."
August 11: South LA, 200 block of West 65th Street – Ezell Ford
A little over a week after Abrego's s death and only four blocks away, the LAPD shot and killed Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old mentally ill black man. According to an LAPD press release, officers were conducting an "investigative stop" and detained Ford, who was unarmed. During that stop, the release states, "a struggle ensued." In a later statement, the LAPD claimed that "during the struggle, they fell to the ground and the individual attempted to remove the officer's handgun from its holster." Leroy Hill, an eyewitness to Ford's killing, claimed he witnessed the officers jump out of their car to detain Ford, proceed to beat him, and heard them shout "shoot him!" before shooting Ford three times. The LAPD news release states that "it is unknown if the suspect [had] any gang affiliations," but Hill and other neighbors say Ford had none. They say they knew him as a "good guy" who suffered from an unidentified mental illness.
Dec. 5: Hollywood and Highland - Name Withheld
Just last week, police fatally shot a man near the busy Hollywood and Highland intersection. The officers were responding to a call from someone who said they were stabbed by a man with a knife. However, they were unable to find anyone who had been stabbed. The officers claimed the suspect, whose name has not been released, was not complying with orders. They also claimed he was "swinging a knife around" and threatening bystanders. In an unusual move, the LAPD later tweeted a photo of a small pocketknife that was found on the ground near the unnamed man. The tweet said "...[suspect] armed w/ knife."
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(Note: A previous version attributed the Palm Avenue and Pico Rivera incidents to the LAPD. The department involved was actually the LA County sheriff.)