Los Angeles police released body-camera video on Wednesday showing a bizarre two-hour standoff with a man who inhaled automotive fluid, offered officers a flower and then picked up a metal pipe before he was shot with a bean bag shotgun and stun gun and ultimately died in police custody.
It is the first time the nation's third-largest police department has voluntarily released body-camera footage to the media. The release followed a change in policy from the department's civilian oversight board that requires the release of video from "critical incidents" — including fatal shootings, in-custody deaths and the use of police force that results in a death — within 45 days, with limited exceptions.
The high-production and edited video that was released on Wednesday included a 911 call — with the caller's voice altered — in which the caller told officers that a man was walking around a South Los Angeles neighborhood with a brick. When two officers arrived, they encountered Jose Chavez, 25, and repeatedly asked him if he needed any help or wanted medical attention, but Chavez ignored them.
The nearly 18-minute video includes an introduction from the department's chief spokesman and a narration from Commander Alan Hamilton, the officer in charge of the unit that investigates police use of force. It included body-camera footage from one of the more than a dozen officers who responded to the scene. Several minutes after the officers first encounter Chavez, he begins approaching them and is "agitated," Hamilton says in the video.
He later runs to the porch of a nearby home and is seen on the video inhaling from a bottle of automotive fluid and pouring the fluid on his arms and legs. At one point during the encounter, Chavez picks up a white flower and holds it out toward the officers.
Chavez later picks up a metal pipe from the yard of the home, and officers eventually shoot him several times with a bean bag shotgun and then use a stun gun to try to subdue him. The encounter lasted about two hours before Chavez was taken into custody. He continued to fight with officers while he was handcuffed and on the ground, Hamilton said in the video. "When Chavez was handcuffed, officers noticed that his breathing became labored and eventually stopped," Hamilton said.
Officers called for paramedics, and Chavez was brought to a hospital, where he died. Chavez's official cause of death has not yet been determined by the county coroner, but Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said he didn't believe that the force used by officers caused Chavez's death. An internal review of the incident is still ongoing, but from the video, it appears the officers followed protocol, Beck said.
"This particular incident had an awful consequence," Beck said at a news conference Wednesday to release the video that police referred to as a "community briefing."
Chavez's family has filed a wrongful-death claim with the city and say officers should have done more to deescalate the situation and should have called for a mental evaluation team. Police said a team wasn't available. An attorney for Chavez's family, Luis Carrillo, said the "highly produced video is heavily edited, and slanted in favor of the LAPD, and still leaves many questions unanswered."
"Before the public makes any decision on this, we urge the LAPD to release the full, raw portion along with the complete autopsy report so we can all view exactly how the police officers behaved throughout this tragic incident," Carrillo said.
The police department did not make the raw body camera videos available and would not immediately release any additional footage. When the city's police commission — the civilian oversight board — ultimately rules on whether the officers acted within the policy, additional information and footage may be released, the chief said.
Craig Lally, the president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file officers, said the videos provide a "limited, but important view into the world that police officers must navigate." But he cautioned that videos are just one piece of evidence in complex cases. "I think the release of all the video, particularly at this point, will not tell the whole story," Beck said. "I think that you have to release it in context, and that's what we do."