Maeve Reston, Times Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved
The Riverside police officers who on Sunday shot and killed a fleeing shoplifting suspect after he crashed his car told investigators they believed their lives were in danger when the suspect reached for the center console, possibly for a weapon, authorities said Tuesday.
Steven Cloud, 27, was killed by the officers after he allegedly stole a carpet cleaner from a Home Depot store. No weapon was found in Cloud's car.
Police say the pursuit began after Cloud left the checkout line at the Home Depot without paying for the carpet cleaner.
As he walked toward his 1984 Toyota Celica, with its rear hatch open, customers and employees chased him and tried to keep him from getting into the car.
Witnesses told police Cloud pushed through the customers in the parking lot, shoving one man to the ground, and sped from the store so quickly that several bystanders had to be yanked out of his path. He lost control of the car a short distance away after skidding into a pickup truck.
Three officers, who had matched the crashed vehicle with the description from witnesses at the Home Depot, said Cloud refused to respond to orders as they walked toward the vehicle with their guns drawn.
When Cloud refused to get out of the car, one of the three officers tried to pull him out of the window, police said.
After being partly pulled out of the car, police say, Cloud jerked himself free and hit the accelerator while turning the steering wheel side to side in what appeared to be an attempt to flee.
Steven Frasher, a police spokesman, said one of the officers shot Cloud four times after seeing him reach continually for the front-seat center console. A second officer shot Cloud once.
"The officers' statements were that he kept reaching for that console with such insistence that they were worried that there could be a weapon there that he was reaching for," Frasher said, adding that they feared he would run over at least one of them if his car gained traction.
Curtis Neal, a sales manager at the Riverside Car Store who watched the shooting from about 150 feet away, said some of the other witnesses to the shooting believed the officer who shot Cloud was "trigger-happy."
But he said he believed police did everything they could to try to get the suspect out of the car.
Though the sun's rays interfered with his view of the suspect's movements, Neal said, the officer who shot Cloud had his gun drawn for a full minute as the other officers tried to get the suspect out of the car.
"The officer had to have seen something happen through the back of the Celica," he said. "I think the officers made every attempt to get him out."
Calif. police justify killing of theft suspect