Sheriff's deputies fired chemical irritants at demonstrators who gathered in front of the South Los Angeles sheriff's station to protest last week's fatal shooting of Dijon Kizzee by deputies in the Westmont area, witnesses said.
The Black Lives Matter protest at 1310 W. Imperial Highway began at 4 p.m. Saturday and quickly swelled to about 200-300 people, as friends, family and activists remembered the life of Dijon Kizzee, called for law enforcement agencies to be defunded, and asked attendees to vote Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey out of office.
It was unclear what caused the sheriff's deputies to fire at least three nonlethal warning shots at 8:30 p.m. Saturday since no one appeared to have breached the line, witnesses said. A spokesperson with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office said protesters started throwing rocks and bottles at deputies, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A loudspeaker announcement indicated deputies were concerned about a protester with an umbrella, but video showed he was complying at the time the rounds were fired.
The protester, who gave his name only as A.J., admitted he extended the umbrella slightly over the police tape, but said he only did so because he was trying to make sure another person was protected from nonlethal bullets that had already been fired.
"They hit my foot," he said. "That was the very first shot."
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A hail of irritant fire erupted a few minutes later, and by 8:40 p.m. six loud bangs had been heard. Afterward, at least one protester was seen throwing a water bottle at deputies
At 8:43 p.m. deputies declared the crowd an unlawful assembly and gave protesters 10 minutes to clear out.
Kizzee was fatally shot at 3:15 p.m. on Aug. 31 during a confrontation with deputies near West 109th Place and South Budlong Avenue. Sheriff's officials said Kizzee was riding a bicycle in the area and deputies stopped him for an unspecified vehicle code violation.
"I do appreciate everyone that's out here,'' Kizzee's cousin, Shaneika Hall, 32, told the crowd Saturday. "I know that he would want me to be strong. And this time, this moment -- right now -- he is standing up there applauding everyone."
Hall, dressed in a "Child of God" T-shirt, spoke through her "JUSTICE FOR DIJON KIZZEE" mask, saying she appreciates the support the family has received in recent days.
"This is very, very hard," she said. "I just lost my brother two months ago, and I have to stand right here today, because somebody wanted to take his life, because they're not happy with their life."
As she spoke she clutched a poster with her cousin's face and a call for the removal of Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
"I am angry," she said, bursting into tears. "We're angry. His family is angry."
Another of Kizzee's cousins, 29-year-old Summer Jones, said he wants to see law enforcement shift from a "policing'' mentality to a "public safety" approach.
"The police was wrong," he said. "They will not get away with this at all."
After Kizzee was stopped, he tried to run away and struggled with deputies, according to the sheriff's department.
"Our suspect was holding some items of clothing in his hands, punched one of the officers in the face and dropped items in his hands," Lt. Brandon Dean said. "The deputies noticed that inside the clothing items that he dropped was a black, semiautomatic handgun, at which time a deputy-involved-shooting occurred."
Why Kizzee was shot, even though he was not holding the weapon, was not clear, although the sheriff's department has said he "made a motion toward the firearm."
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, representing Kizzee's family, said the victim was shot in the back more than 20 times, although there had been no confirmation of the number of shots fired.
Sources told the Los Angeles Times the deputies involved in the shooting were a trainee and his supervising officer.
While addressing protesters outside the sheriff's station Saturday, Dominique Brown, the oldest sister of Ryan Twyman, who was reportedly unarmed when shot and killed by sheriff's deputies last year, said she was supposed to go shopping with Kizzee just hours after he was killed.
"I don't know what we have to do to make them understand,'' she said, asking the many faces present from outside the Westmont community to remember Kizzee after the demonstration. "After this, when you all leave here, what you gonna do? What are you all gonna do to make a difference for us?"
She urged attendees to make their voices heard at the ballot box and led a chant against Lacey.
"I don't like to vote, but I do vote," she said, encouraging people to vote by mail ahead of time. "I vote for the right things."
Around 6 p.m. the crowd headed toward the Harbor (110) Freeway, blocking all northbound lanes up from 6:30 p.m. for about an hour, facing off with California Highway Patrol officers as a beautiful orange sun set over South Los Angeles.
"We're here today to uplift the name and the life of Dijon Kizzee," said Joseph Williams of Black Lives Matter LA, speaking to the protesters on the freeway. "We're gonna continue to fight for justice in Dijon's name, and in all the names of those that've been stolen by the police."
Around 7 p.m. as the crowd began to make its way back to surface streets, Anton Drahworn, 24, jumped off the side of a flatbed truck carrying the speakers that had been amplifying William's voice.
"He was a good kid," he said of Kizzee, the friend he played sports with. "Whether or not he did anything bad or wrong, if you catch a suspect -- I'm not saying he did anything bad or wrong -- you do not shoot him. You contain him and you bring him in for investigation. What happened to that?"
The deputies who shot Kizzee were removed from the field pending a review, as is standard procedure, the sheriff's department announced Tuesday night.
Ron Hernandez, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union representing the department's deputies, said that "as always, we look forward to a fair review of the circumstances regarding this unfortunate incident."
The sheriff's deputies were not begun wearing body cameras. Crump urged anyone with video footage of the confrontation to come forward. Some doorbell footage capturing the shots being fired was released Tuesday.
The shooting prompted protest demonstrations Monday night and Tuesday night, and activists demanded that the deputies involved in the shooting be arrested and prosecuted.
Villanueva, speaking at the Board of Supervisors' meeting Tuesday, did not discuss details of the shooting but offered his condolences to Kizzee's relatives.
That same night, mourners gathered around candles set up at the site of Kizzee's death, and questioned why a sheet that had been used to block his body from view had not been cleaned up.
There were still around 100-200 protesters in Saturday's crowd, as they returned to the sheriff's station at 8:10 p.m. Some approached the yellow barrier set well back from the 50 or so deputies guarding the station, while others remained in the street.
The sheriff's department used so much tear gas, it made its way across Imperial and into the yards of local residents.
"This is crazy," said 28-year-old Larry Davis, who lives across Imperial from the station. "I been just right here and I'm burning."
Davis hadn't been part of the protest, but nevertheless was now wiping his face with a cloth.
The demonstration seemed to have been peaceful right up until deputies started firing munitions, he said.
One protester showed what he said was an irritant ball that had caused the welt on the left side of his neck.
And R.J. Dawson, 32, of Black Unity LA, said it was surprising deputies declared an unlawful assembly, considering how well-behaved everyone had been all day.
"They opened fire on us plain and simple," he said. "They just drove everybody out and started shooting canisters."
It felt like the sheriff's department had been emboldened to stifle dissent now that Black Lives Matter demonstration sizes have receded somewhat from the tens of thousands seen at their peak earlier this year, he said.
"We were out here for George Floyd and we filled the streets," he said. "But now, like, somebody dies in our own backyard, and these are all the people that we get -- and even if those people come here to protest -- (deputies) now have the power to just push (protesters) away because we don't have numbers anymore."
"They wait until people aren't looking and they're taking advantage of the situation and then trying to spin it to make it look like we're hostile,'' he said. "But this thing has been peaceful all day. Literally all day."
Lt. Milory, of the South Los Angeles Station, said she was unaware of any munitions being used by deputies during Saturday's demonstration, and said protesters had been the ones assaulting officers with an aerial bombardment of sorts.
"They threw fireworks and rocks," she said, adding protesters also threw bottles. "Same as they always do."
She said the protesters were acting childish and need to "grow up."
"It's called going to a store and buying it," she said, of the items protesters launched toward deputies.
If any irritants, flash-bang grenades or nonlethal bullets were used, she said "it would have been done to protect the facility based on the actions of the protesters."
No arrests were made, Milroy said.