Citing what is seen in security camera video, the family of a mentally ill woman shot by Los Angeles police is suing the department and city for wrongful death, contending officers had options other than using deadly force.
Norma "Angie" Guzman, 37, was killed September 27 during an encounter with officers on San Pedro Street just south of downtown. Officers were responding to a call of a threatening woman with a knife.
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Newly released security camera video from a nearby shop shows Guzman walking down the sidewalk toward the officers moments after they pulled up and exited their patrol vehicle. Both officers remained on the roadway, with the passenger officer taking a position at the rear of a parked car. When Guzman came within a few feet of the officer, he can be seen stepping back and firing, as did his partner officer.
"There is no way this can be justified, said Arnoldo Casillas, attorney for Guzman's family.
Guzman appears to be holding something as she approaches the officers, though the video is so grainy, with uneven lighting, that much of what happens is not clear. Casillas does not deny it may have been the knife with the 8-inch blade that police reported recovering.
Police also said after the incident that the woman ignored commands.
Early on, there were reports that as Guzman approached the officers, she was heard to say words to the effect, "shoot me, shoot me." Asked to confirm this two days after the incident, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said it was correct.
Family members said Guzman had been hospitalized at least twice for her mental illness. They said they did not know why she would have had a knife.
Regardless, Casillas contends the officers should have used a less lethal option, such as a stun gun or pepper spray to disable the woman.
"If ever there was a situation to use a Taser, this was it," said Casillas.
Whether the officers were carrying stun guns is not known. LAPD declined to comment, citing the case still being under investigation.
All LAPD field officers are required to carry stun guns under a department Operations Order signed six days earlier. But a department spokesman could not say if that order had been implemented fully at the time of the officer involved shooting.
Overall, department use of stun guns increased last year, according to a Use of Force report released last month. However, another analysis of LAPD records, undertaken by the Los Angeles Times, found that department stun guns were effective in subduing subjects only 53 percent of the time.
On San Pedro Street last September, the responding officers consisted of a rookie paired with a training officer, LAPD said early on. Casillas said it is his understanding the training officer was the one standing at the back of the parked car as Guzman approached. It is not known if either had undergone the expanded training LAPD began last year to better prepare officers for interactions with the mentally ill.
Though only now being made public, the video was located within three or four days of the incident, Casillas said, explaining that he did not think it should be released until after family members had seen it, and they were reluctant to witness Guzman's final moments, viewing the video only recently.
During its investigation, LAPD obtained its own copy of the video, the department confirmed after Casillas released his. Department investigators also have access to video and audio yet to be made public — the recordings of the body cameras worn by both officers.
"I hope there will be justice," said Guzman's mother Gloria Gonzalez in Spanish.
Casillas called on District Attorney Jackie Lacey to review the video "objectively."
Lacey has previously written of her commitment to insuring that "every shooting is thoroughly reviewed in accordance with the law," but also stated she must remain "impartial" until the investigation is complete.
"She has to act, she has to do the right thing, she has to prosecute these officers," Casillas said.
Citing investigation still underway, the DA's office declined to comment.
Last month, the LAPD five-year Use of Force report found that 14 of the 38 people hit by LAPD gunfire in 2015 had indications of mental illness — more than in previous years.
A week later, the Los Angeles Police Commission adopted "de-escalation" as the preferred tactic for volatile encounters that could escalate into requiring force, and set up a working group to develop a plan for implementing it.