LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles police chief said Wednesday he is concerned about two recent fatal police shootings, including one where officers failed to call for a specially-trained mental health team during an interaction with a man in crisis.
Chief Michel Moore said Wednesday that he is “deeply concerned” by the deaths of those men, as well as a third, over two days — two fatally shot by officers and one who went into cardiac arrest hours after police used a stun gun on him during a struggle.
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office is still investigating the cases for Keenan Anderson, the cardiac arrest patient who is related to a Black Lives Matter co-founder, and Oscar Sanchez and have not yet ruled on the cause and manner of their deaths. Both died on Jan. 3.
Takar Smith’s death was ruled a homicide — as is typical for fatal police shootings — by gunshot wounds. His wife had sought help from police for a restraining order violation on Jan. 2 and warned the LAPD of her husband’s mental health condition.
Smith, 45, was fatally shot after raising a 10-inch (25-centimeter) butcher-style knife above his head after officers had stun gunned and pepper sprayed him. The LAPD said Officer Joseph Zizzo and Officer Nicolas Alejandre opened fire.
Smith’s killing has already prompted Moore to order additional training for officers. The LAPD on Wednesday released body-worn video footage of the three instances, well ahead of the typical 45-day deadline.
Smith’s wife told the dispatcher — after she had initially sought help from officers at a nearby police station — that her husband had been diagnosed with schizophrenia but had not been taking his medication and would likely fight anyone who intervened.
“He’s not in his right mind,” she told the dispatcher.
A policeman at the scene summoned additional officers and a supervisor. However, none of the department’s specialized mental health teams, which are paired with clinicians, were called after his wife’s initial report or during the roughly 15-minute interaction with police — during which Moore said Smith showed signs of mental illness — in his wife’s apartment.
The officers initially attempted to de-escalate the situation but pulled out their weapons — including a stun gun and a less-lethal projectile launcher — after Smith brandished a chair at them, body-worn camera footage shows. The officers later warned him they would “be lethal” when he went into the unit’s kitchen despite their commands.
Increasingly agitated and incoherent, Smith returned to the kitchen and grabbed a knife from the counter, the footage shows. Officers pepper sprayed him and used a stun gun on him repeatedly while yelling “drop the knife!” as Smith is on his knees in the corner of the kitchen and screaming “get away!”
He dropped the knife but picked it up again and raised it over his head. Two officers fired seven rounds in total, striking Smith as he knelt. Another officer continued to use the stun gun on Smith as he lay face-down on the floor. He was pronounced dead at the scene and the knife was found under his body.
The shootings came in the days after Moore applied for a second five-year term as the head of the police department. The city’s new mayor, Karen Bass, has not yet said whether she supports Moore’s reappointment, which will be voted on by the five-member civilian police commission. The City Council can overrule the commission’s decision with 10 veto votes.
The department has come under fire in recent years for a rise in police shootings, as well as other high-profile failures.
Bass echoed Moore’s concerns and called the videos of all three incidents “deeply disturbing.”
“Especially as a former health care professional, I am deeply troubled that mental health experts were not called in, even when there was a documented history of past mental health crisis,” she said in a statement, addressing Smith’s death. “When there is no immediate risk to others, law enforcement must not be the first responder when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. I believe officers and Angelenos agree on this.”
Black Lives Matter supporters protested the officers’ actions in Anderson’s death outside the LAPD headquarters on Wednesday as Moore held his news conference inside.