L.A County Has Had More Than 1,300 Police Shootings Since 2000. Why Has No Officer Been Charged?
Illustration by Matthew Griffin
On the night of April 25, 2014, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department dispatched three deputies to a suicide call at a home in Maywood, in southeast L.A. Earlier in the evening, a woman named Irma Hernandez had called 911, saying that her former husband, 42 year-old Salvador Palencia, was in the apartment with her and her children, threatening to kill himself with a knife.
It had been two weeks since Palencia and Irma Hernandez ended their common law marriage, and he had come to the apartment that evening, with her consent, to pack up his things. But he wasn’t allowed to stay past 9:30 p.m., and when the time came and she asked him to leave, he was already drunk and argumentative. He began to shout, accusing her of being with another man, and his tone got louder and angrier, even as she begged him not to frighten the children.
The couple’s 9-year-old, Marlene, was lying awake in a first-floor bedroom, and Irma’s 8-year-old son, Diego, was upstairs asleep.
Sheriff’s deputy Andrew Alatorre appeared in the open doorway at about 11 p.m., already pointing his gun at Palencia, who was unarmed at the time and standing about 10 feet away, in the living room. Alatorre and a second deputy, Daniel Marquez, stood on the small front porch shoulder to shoulder. They repeatedly shouted orders at Irma Hernandez to leave the house.
Hernandez had sunk to her knees on the living room floor, holding onto the bedroom door handle to keep it closed to prevent the couple’s 9-year-old daughter, Marlene, from walking out. Marlene had been lying in bed, first listening to her parents argue, then to her mother call the police to tell them that her father had a knife in his hand. The commotion had reached a crescendo, her mother wailing, the deputies shouting orders at her father, in English and Spanish, her father shouting drunken threats.
Alatorre glanced to his left, down the stairs to a third deputy, Michael Lugo, who was standing on the bottom step and had a Taser gun in hand. Lugo was a guard in the county jail and had been assigned to ride with Alatorre that night as part of a training program. Alatorre took the Taser from Lugo, held it briefly and then handed it back. The Taser was a reliable option at that moment; Palencia was within its range and wearing a T-shirt that was unlikely to obstruct the shock of electricity. But Alatorre decided there wasn’t time under the circumstances to put down his gun and remove the Taser from its holster, even though Marquez was covering Palencia the entire time.
Palencia began berating the deputies, and flung the handle of a kitchen utensil at them from 10 feet away, which missed. Then Palencia suddenly took a shiny, metal object from the kitchen sink. Alatorre fired on Palencia three times; Marquez fired four times. Palencia fell backward on the floor near the kitchen. He was dead almost immediately.
It was later discovered that Palencia had not been waving a knife but a cake spatula.
During an investigation into the shooting conducted by the L.A. County District Attorney, Alatorre would say later that he feared for his life because during the suicide call, Palencia took the object from the sink — which, to Alatorre, appeared to be a knife — and brandished it at the deputies from about 5 feet away. (Marquez said 10 feet.) Earlier in the night, Palencia had taken a knife from the kitchen and knelt on the floor with the blade pressed against his torso, saying he was going to do it “like a movie,” according to an investigative report on the shooting released by L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office. Before the deputies arrived, Hernandez had smacked the knife away and hidden it in a potted plant on the front porch.
Incredibly, Palencia appeared sober to Alatorre, though the coroner’s report would later reveal that Palencia’s blood alcohol content was between .38 and .44 percent at the time, a degree of drunkenness that can cause respiratory failure and coma. “Jiminy Christmas, the guy is so drunk, you push him and he’ll fall over,” said Arnoldo Casillas, the attorney for the Palencia family, who cross-examined Alatorre in January for the federal lawsuit.
Casillas agreed to provide L.A. Weekly pages from Alatorre’s testimony in response to questions about the Palencia shooting. “At the time of the shooting, he wasn’t a threat,” Casillas said.
Seven months after the shooting, on Nov. 26, 2014, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office cleared Alatorre and Marquez of any criminal wrongdoing in the shooting. The DA’s investigators determined that Alatorre and Marquez “were placed in reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury” by Palencia’s actions on the night he was killed, and that the deputies “acted lawfully in self-defense and defense of others when they used deadly force.”It was the standard “clear letter,” as the DA refers to its reports exonerating officers. Since 2000, the DA’s office has reviewed more than 1,300 police shootings that involved on-duty police officers or Sheriff’s deputies in Los Angeles County, and it hasn’t prosecuted in any one of the cases, the Los Angeles Times reported in February.
From the period since Jackie Lacey became the LA County District Attorney on December 3, 2012, through September 22 of this year, the DA's Justice System Integrity Division has investigated 335 officer-involved shootings and filed criminal charges in one case, according the DA's response to a California Public Records Act Request by LA Weekly. According to Lacey's office, off-duty LAPD officer Henry Solis was charged for murder and assault with a firearm after he shot and killed a man after a fight outside a Pomona bar on March 13, 2015.
In August 2015, Salvador Palencia’s family filed a wrongful death suit in federal court against the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, naming Alatorre, Marquez and Lugo as defendants. Casillas says the negotiations for a settlement are underway with the county. “In all likelihood, this is a case that will never see the light of a courtroom,” he says. Casillas says he expects it to be a multimillion-dollar verdict.
The Sheriff’s Department will not disclose the results of the separate internal investigation of the shooting by its Executive Force Review Committee, the group that determines if a deputy’s use of deadly force was appropriate and in accordance with department policy.
“We are not able to give out any disciplinary or any information on personnel,” Sheriff’s Department public information officer Nicole Nishida tells L.A. Weekly. State law keeps the personnel records of police officers confidential, she says.
What is a matter of public record, however, is that 16 days after Alatorre testified to his role in the killing of Salvador Palencia, he shot and killed 24 year-old Edwin Rodriguez during a late-night traffic stop in East Los Angeles. The date was Feb. 14, 2016. It was 21 months and 11 days after Salvador Palencia was killed in the living room of Irma Hernandez’s Maywood apartment.
East L.A. accounts for 27 percent of the fatal shootings by the County Sheriff's Department so far this year; Boyle Heights for 29 percent by LAPD.
2016 is the second straight year that Los Angeles has outpaced all other cities in the country for the number of fatal officer-involved shootings; this, in the state with likely the tightest restrictions on public access to personnel records and discipline history of the officers who are involved.
The Los Angeles Police Department has killed 17 civilians as of Oct. 4 of this year, according to the department’s records. That number puts Los Angeles ahead of the cities that rank second and third nationally: Phoenix, with 12 fatal police shootings, and Houston with nine, according to data on police shootings compiled by the Guardian . The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has killed 11 civilians in the same period, according to county records.
In 2015, on-duty LAPD officers killed 19 civilians, and on-duty L.A. Sheriff’s deputies killed 14. Adjusting for population, L.A. County was the 11th deadliest county in America last year for officer-involved shootings, according to the Guardian .
California law prohibits public access to the personnel records of police officers, including discipline records and “any other information the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
Only a judge can order the release of police personnel records as part of a criminal case or lawsuit, and most often, the release comes with a stipulation that limits access to only the parties involved in the lawsuit. In the Placencia case, for example, Alatorre answered questions from Casillas about whether the Executive Force Review Committee’s investigation found fault with his use of force or his tactics. But Alatorre’s answers were recorded in a separate, confidential transcript and sealed under the orders of the judge in the case.
“The police have super protection,” says Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, in San Rafael. “It’s not a protection enjoyed by any other government employee. And it has nothing to do with their effectiveness as police officers. In fact, on the contrary, it probably interferes with that effectiveness. It is purely a reflection of the very significant political power of police organizations, unions, as a special interest group.”
When it comes to access to data on officer-involved shootings, the LASD may be the most hermetic and least-transparent law enforcement agency in all of California, open-records advocates say. Unlike the LAPD, the Sheriff’s Department will not post online decisions on policy determinations in police shootings. It also does not disclose whether any such shooting was determined to be in or out of policy, nor what discipline, if any, the Force Review Committee recommends in any case. The Sheriff’s Department still posts some shooting data on a county website, for instance, the location of the shooting; which police station or unit was involved; the race of the deputy and of the victim; and whether the suspect was armed at the time. But the department no longer posts the outcomes of investigations, nor if the deputy was disciplined over the incident.
In June, the Sheriff’s Department removed from its public records database information on whether deputies’ force and tactics for all shootings had been found in or out of policy. The department removed the information in response to a strongly worded letter sent in January from legal counsel for the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), the union that represents Sheriff’s deputies, arguing that sharing such information violates California’s police officer privacy laws. For months, the data had been available on the site, as part of a push for greater transparency by Sheriff Jim McDonnell.
As Southern California Public Radio’s KPCC first reported, the data in dispute showed that the Force Review Committee found 99 percent of officer-involved shootings to be in accordance with policy. From 2010 to June 2015, the month the data were scrubbed from the department’s website, only two deputies out of 187 were found to have wrongfully used force. The department found fault with deputies’ tactics slightly more often, in 37 cases out of 187, or nearly 20 percent of the time. Nineteen percent of deputies were disciplined and 22 percent received training, KPCC reported.
The administrative finding into Alatorre’s use of force in the Palencia shooting was still pending at the time the information was removed.
ALADS has fought successfully for decades to prevent the Sheriff’s Department from disclosing such information from deputies’ personnel records to the public. The union also took the department to court in 1991 and 2009 to prevent efforts to expedite the administrative review of officer-involved shootings. ALADS sued the department in 2009 to stop a reform that would have allowed investigators to conduct administrative reviews of deputy-involved shootings concurrently with criminal investigations.
George Hofstetter, president of ALADS, told L.A. Weekly that internal affairs investigators, unlike criminal investigators, can compel a deputy to make a statement after a shooting. Hofstetter says that by delaying the start of the administrative review, the union wishes to prevent internal affairs investigators from interfering in the criminal investigation.
“The Sheriff Department’s criminal investigation division and internal affairs are in the same building. They pretty much occupy the same office space,” Hofstetter says. “And for somebody to believe criminal investigators are not going to talk to administrative investigators, that they’re not going to share information, that’s just a fallacy.”
The California Courts of Appeal ruled in favor of ALADS in a 2013 decision that overturned the attempt at a new policy, and ratified the current one, which requires that the department put its internal investigation on hold until the criminal investigation has run its course. Internal affairs investigators can wait a year or more to begin examining an officer-involved shooting.
Hofstetter says the department typically returns the deputy to patrol duty about a month after a shooting, so long as the Executive Force Review Committee finds nothing aberrant in its preliminary review of the deputy’s actions.
Los Angeles Angels vs. New York Yankees
TicketsMon., Jun. 12, 7:07pm
Premium Seating: Los Angeles Angels v. New York Yankees
TicketsMon., Jun. 12, 7:07pm
Premium Seating: Los Angeles Angels v. Kansas City Royals
TicketsThu., Jun. 15, 7:07pm
Los Angeles Angels vs. Kansas City Royals
TicketsThu., Jun. 15, 7:07pm
By contrast, the LAPD’s administrative reviews of officer shootings run concurrently with criminal investigations. Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, tells the Weekly that numerous police departments in the state-run parallel administrative and criminal investigations.
“Departments across the state can and do run administrative investigations in parallel by creating a firewall between the two investigations and requiring no contact between them. That allows the administrative investigation team to get to evidence quickly while memories are still fresh and without having to wait years until the evidence unfolds in a criminal case.”
On average, it takes the DA’s office 10 months to clear an officer or deputy in a criminal investigation, according to report by the Los Angeles Times, which reviewed 67 cases of officer-involved shootings from 2006 to 2014. This 10-month delay would appear to fly in the face of a 15-year protocol that calls for police agencies to submit their investigation to the DA’s office in 60 to 90 days (“absent unusual circumstances”) and for the DA’s Justice System Integrity Division to issue its closing reports within 60 days, “except in unusual circumstances or where additional investigation is required.”
The DA’s office can take more than two years, in some cases, to decide whether to charge an officer, said Bibring of the ACLU. “That’s far too long for a community to wait for answers,” Bibring said.
In the rare instance that the DA’s Office files criminal charges against an officer or deputy, the Sheriff’s Department would postpone its internal policy review until the court issues a judgment in the criminal case. Dan Baker, chief deputy at the Office of Inspector General for the County of Los Angeles, which oversees the Sheriff’s internal investigations, told L.A. Weekly that once the criminal investigation is closed, the administrative review has a year to be completed. The forms of discipline for a deputy found to have violated policy range a written reprimand in the personnel file, to suspensions of up to 30 days off without pay, or dismissal.
In spite of so many legal protections, a number of allegations of misconduct against Andrew Alatorre are publicly available. Alatorre, 29, of Fontana, in San Bernardino County, graduated from the academy and was hired by the Sheriff’s Department in 2007. He worked as a guard at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Mission Junction for the first six years.
His name appears in the public domain for the first time as part of an 85-page complaint the ACLU of Southern California filed in federal court in 2012 — nearly two years before the Palencia shooting — against Sheriff Lee Baca, for condoning a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies against inmates in the county’s jails.
The ACLU’s suit is a litany of complaints of abuse brought by inmates against guards. Alatorre’s accuser was still an inmate in a county jail at the time of the suit, and the ACLU withheld his name, as the suit states, to protect against the likelihood of violent retaliation from Sheriff’s deputies. The inmate is referred to as Mr. A.
The inmate’s complaint of abuse against Alatorre reads in full as follows:
On Sept. 24, 2011, Mr. A was lying down on the floor of his pod in Twin Towers suffering from a migraine headache and vertigo. When Mr. A asked Deputy Alatorre for his prescribed migraine medication, Deputy Alatorre kicked a book at him and left the module, ignoring his request for the medication. When Deputy Alatorre returned later with Deputy Ewell, Deputy Alatorre grabbed Mr. A by the shirt and tried to pull him off the floor. Mr. A lost his balance and hit his chin on the floor. The two deputies dragged Mr. A to his cell, forced him against the wall, and twisted his right arm so hard that he yelled out in pain. Deputy Alatorre pulled down Mr. A’s pants below the buttocks and verbally taunted him, while Deputy Ewell sat on Mr. A’s legs right below IDS exposed buttocks. Deputy Alatorre pushed Mr. A’s face against the wall, hitting his forehead, and then placed Mr. A in a stress position for several minutes by pushing IDS knee or boot into Mr. A’s back. Although Mr. A was still suffering from the migraine and vertigo, in addition to an injured back and an arm that felt like it was broken, the deputies waved off medical staff from helping Mr. A.
One day later, Mr. A was given 25 days in disciplinary segregation as a result of the incident. Mr. A was 48 years old at the time of the beating.
Under the terms of settlement reached in 2014, the L.A. County agreed to adopt a plan to curb excessive force on inmates — including those with mental illnesses — that result in grave injuries or death, according to an ACLU statement issued at the time. The county also agreed to compensate the ACLU for more than $900,000 in legal fees.
Alatorre was eventually promoted out of the jail to a patrol deputy at the East Los Angeles station. Since going on patrol, he’s been involved in two fatal on-duty shootings, the second of which came earlier this year.
Estela Rodriguez's son Edwin was shot by police in East L.A.
Valentine's Day this year fell on a Sunday. The Rodriguez family has lived in East Los Angeles for 19 years in a house that is about a mile east of South Indiana Street, the line that divides the unincorporated area of East L.A. from Boyle Heights in the city of Los Angeles. Early that morning, Estela Rodriguez and her 16 year-old daughter, Cindy Rodriguez, went shopping for a holiday balloon on Whittier Boulevard, the commercial heart of East L.A. But the sight of a crowd at the street corner and the glimpse of police and yellow tape distracted her from the shopping.
Estela heard a passerby say the police had killed a boy in the street. She told Cindy to go on ahead, that she would catch up. She wanted to be sure it wasn’t her son, Edwin. Her daughter chided her for it. “Mamá, estás loca,” she said. But mothers in East Los Angeles live in constant fear their children could be harmed, both by criminals and by the police.
It wasn’t because Edwin Rodriguez was in trouble with the law that Estela felt the urge to see for herself who the dead boy was. It was that Miguel Mendoza, a friend of Edwin’s, lived in a house on Ferris Avenue behind the Top Valu Market, a block north of the throng gathering at South Ferris and Whittier. Estela knew that Edwin and Miguel had worked together the night before, on the late shift at La Potosina — what neighbors call the corner store near his parents’ house, where Edwin stocked the shelves. Edwin and Miguel often went to Miguel’s house for a beer after the store closed at 2 a.m.
Estela tried calling Edwin’s cellphone; it went to voicemail. Then she tried Miguel’s, and when he didn’t answer she walked over to his house and knocked on the door. He told her that Edwin came over the night before but didn’t stay long, and that he called Diane Martinez, a friend of the Rodriguez family, for a ride home at around 3 a.m. Diane picked him up in her mother’s van, and Diane’s brother Peter Martinez rode in the back seat, while Edwin sat up front. Edwin was still carrying the back brace he wore to lift the heavy boxes of beer onto the refrigerator’s shelves at La Potosina.
Miguel heard that the police had stopped the van for some reason, he told Estela, but that was all he’d heard.
Estela returned to the corner of Ferris and Whittier and weaved her small shoulders through the crowd, getting close enough to see that Diane Martinez’s van was parked beside the curb on Ferris, inside the cordon of yellow tape. People were gaping at the body in the street, but the van blocked Estela’s view. She called out to the nearest Sheriff’s deputy’s, a woman in uniform standing at the edge of the crowd. “That van belongs to my son’s friend,” she told her, “I think my son was riding home in it last night.” The deputy asked Estela for the name of her son, and Estela told her Eduardo Rodriguez, using her son’s given name. No, the deputy said, that victim over there, his name is Edwin.
“And that’s when I realized that it was my son,” Estela told L.A. Weekly. So she said to the deputy, "yes, my son’s name is Eduardo Edwin, he’s 24 years old," and while she spoke she moved instinctively to duck under the yellow tape and run to her son’s side, but the deputy pushed her back. “She told me, ‘I can’t tell you anything, go to the police station and ask for the detective.’” So Estela reached Cindy, and they went together to the East L.A. Sheriff’s station, a mile away, on East Third Street. But when Estela saw the detective, he told her he couldn’t say anything until the authorities brought the body from the scene.
Estela ended up back at Ferris and Whittier. She took a seat on the curb and waited with her family for the authorities to come to take the body away to the morgue. She wasn’t yet willing to accept that Edwin was dead. To her, from 30 feet away, the body in the street looked as anonymous as a stranger’s.
The crowds came and went, the investigators consulted and measured, but no one covered the body. Estela waited at the corner for more than six hours, and the deputies never let her get close enough to see the face. “And how were they ever going to let me see him the way he was, lying there, in pieces, his face blown apart, all of it,” Estela says through tears.
At 5 p.m., the coroner’s office drove the body away in a truck. Estela followed with her daughter-in-law Stephanie Yañez, who is Edwin’s common law wife. The man at the morgue made the identification, in part by asking Stephanie to spell out her name and the names of the 3-year-old boy and 6 -year-old girl whom she and Edwin were parenting together.
The identification was complete once the spelling matched the names that the coroner’s deputy who performed the autopsy had found tattooed on Edwin’s body.
Boyle Heights has had five residents shot and killed by police since February, more on-duty fatal police shootings than any other neighborhood in Los Angeles. It has also had the year’s two youngest victims, 16-year-old Jose Mendez and 14-year-old Jesse Romero. Just across the city line, Sheriff’s deputies have killed three people in East L.A. through Sept. 29 of this year, according to data compiled by the department.
Both Boyle Heights and East L.A. were hotbeds of gang violence in the 1990s, but the level of violent crime has plummeted since then, though officials say it has begun to tick upward. Violent crime has risen 57 percent in the Boyle Heights area through Aug. 27, compared with the same period in 2014, according to LAPD statistics. This year, Boyle Heights has seen eight murders through Oct. 4, and East Los Angeles 9 for the same period, according to data compiled by the Los Angeles Times.
The recent killing of LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Steve Owen on a burglary call in Lancaster on Oct. 5, and the murders of two Palm Springs police officers on Oct. 8, underscore the delicate balance law enforcement faces between danger and responsibility. On the weekend before, Los Angeles police shot and killed two suspects in South Los Angeles, stirring unrest and protests in that neighborhood.
“It’s very complicated because officers that are in high-crime areas, in neighborhoods with a high percentage of gangs are going to have a lot more complaints and shootings than in low-crime areas,” says Ambrosio Rodriguez, a 13-year deputy district attorney for Riverside County, who worked on officer-involved shootings as a prosecutor and is now in private defense. “In high-crime areas there’s also the issue that cops are more willing to escalate a situation and use deadly force when it’s not warranted.”
Police and Sheriffs recovered guns from the scene of many, but not all, of the shootings.
“It’s not uncommon for people to be on the streets at night, and they bring a gun for protection,” says Jorge Gonzalez, an attorney who represents the families of Jesse Romero and Edwin Rodriguez in lawsuits their families have brought against the police and Sheriff’s Department. “They’re not going to be out there shooting up people, but they don’t want home-boys coming around and hassling them and do this and they can’t protect themselves.”
In July, Edwin Rodriguez’s family filed a federal lawsuit against the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. The suit alleges violation of civil rights, excessive use of lethal force, and wrongful death. The lawsuit states that Sheriff’s deputies Andrew Alatorre and his partner, Sandy Galdamez, shot Rodriguez 17 times while he was unarmed and lying facedown on the street. The results of the autopsy are sealed, but Gonzalez told the Weekly that all of the bullets entered through Rodriguez’s back and the back of his head. “It appears he was lying on his chest when the shooting started. Either lying there or he was on his way toward the ground,” he said.
In the early hours of Feb. 14 — the morning Edwin Rodriquez was shot — Alatorre and Galdamez were patrolling the parking area behind the Top Valu Market on Whittier Boulevard. A low wall separates the lot behind the supermarket from the residential area, and Miguel Mendez lived in the first house on the other side of the wall, Gonzalez says. Diane Martinez pulled into the lot with her brother Peter to pick up Rodriguez, and the three of them sat in the van, discussing whether or not to call it a night. That was when they saw the Sheriff’s patrol car drive past and slow down to inspect in the lot a car that appeared to have been stripped of its parts and abandoned.
At night, after the supermarket closes, the security cameras are turned off. Sheriff’s deputies at the East Los Angeles station, which patrols the area, say they have found stolen vehicles there in the past. Rodriguez and the Martinez siblings had nothing to do with the stripped car, but they were parked in the same lot and feared guilt by association. “When they saw the cops, they were like, ‘ah, let’s get out of here,’” Gonzalez says.
The deputies made a second pass for a closer inspection of the stripped car, according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Department. They drove up behind Diane Martinez as she pulled onto Ferris Avenue and shined a spotlight on her. Diane was afraid, Gonzalez says, and she parked at the curb one block south, at Ferris and Whittier. “She just pulled over and stopped,” Gonzalez says. “And Peter and Edwin were basically saying, ‘Why are you doing that? They didn’t put a light on you.’ And she goes, ‘No, they want us to stop.’”
Diane and Peter Martinez declined to speak to L.A. Weekly, but they gave statements to investigators from the Sheriff’s Department and to Gonzalez and his legal partner in the lawsuit, Antonio Rodriguez, who agreed to discuss the substance of the eyewitness testimony for this story. “The deputies stopped them at gunpoint,” Rodriguez says. “When the deputies approached the van, they were already armed.”
Diane Martinez tried to hand her driver’s license to Alatorre, but he ordered her out of the van, and when she protested that she had done nothing wrong, the lawsuit states, “Alatorre immediately and forcefully removed Ms. Martinez from the driver’s seat of the van, grabbing her around the body and physically pulling her away from the van and into the middle of the street.” Gonzalez says that Alatorre had no right to pull Martinez out of the van, since he had no evidence that she was involved in a crime.
Meanwhile, on the passenger’s side of the van, Galdamez likewise ordered Rodriguez to step out of the van, and Rodriguez resisted, saying he was only a passenger and had done nothing wrong, according to the lawsuit. Estela Rodriguez stands by her son. “Obviously he resisted, because my son knew his rights and they had no reason to force him out,” she says. “The car wasn’t stolen and they weren’t doing anything wrong.”
The Sheriff’s Department said Rodriguez was “being fidgety” and making deputies nervous by reaching for his waistband and saying he needed his cellphone.
Gonzalez, the family’s attorney, who has been representing families in wrongful-death suits against the police since the 1980s, says, “You know, there’s always certain things that are very suspect; ‘he went for his waistband,’ ‘he went for his pocket,’ ‘he went for my gun.’ How do you prove or disprove these things? They’re pretty hard to disprove, you know.”
Peter Martinez watched from the back seat as Galdamez pulled Edwin Rodriguez out of the van; he heard the sound of a small metal object fall on the pavement and Alatorre shout, “Gun!”
According to the lawsuit, Galdamez shoved Edwin Rodriguez around the front of the van and into the middle of Ferris Avenue, about 15 to 20 feet from where investigators later recovered a .22-caliber pistol.
Peter Martinez saw Alatorre move to the passenger side of the van, behind Galdamez, “as if he were guarding the gun,” Gonzalez says. The eyewitness testimony of Peter Martinez is at odds with the version the department gave in public statements that Rodriguez engaged in “a full-blown struggle” for more than a minute with Galdamez, breaking free eventually and “attempting to retrieve his weapon.”
“Deputies gave several commands for the suspect to comply with their orders,” the department statement reads, “however, the suspect continued to struggle and refused to eschew his motion for his weapon.” According to the lawsuit, Galdamez put Edwin Rodriguez facedown in the middle of the street, and Peter Martinez saw Rodriguez 25 to 30 feet from the gun when Alatorre and Galdamez opened fire, the attorneys for the family say.
The deputies shot Edwin Rodriguez 17 times. He was declared dead at the scene at 4 a.m., according to coroner’s records. The findings of the autopsy corroborate Peter Martinez’s statement that Rodriguez went to the ground, either voluntarily or because he was pulled, before the deputies opened fire, Gonzalez says.
In an email to L.A. Weekly on Sept. 22, a spokesperson for L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office said they had yet to be presented the results of the Sheriff’s investigations into the Rodriguez shooting, more than eight months after he was killed.
Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies do not yet use body cameras. In July, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors asked Sheriff Jim McDonnell to present a plan to the board by November to equip deputies with the cameras by early next year.
The Rodriguez case is the second multimillion-dollar federal lawsuit in which Andrew Alatorre is named as a defendant. Nicole Nishida, a public information officer for the Sheriff’s Department, told L.A. Weekly that Alatorre has been reassigned to administrative duties in the East Los Angeles station. The Weekly reached Deputy Alatorre by phone at his desk in the station and asked him if he had received any additional discipline for his role in either of the two shootings.
His response: “No, sir.”
Update: This story has been updated to add information on the deputy-involved shooting in Maywood.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Los Angeles, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.