11/02/2006

Calif. man dies after fight with deputies; cell phone mistaken for gun

Nancy Wride, Times Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved

Authorities said Tuesday that they were investigating the death of a Long Beach man who stopped breathing after a violent struggle Sunday evening in Lakewood with Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies.

The victim was identified late Tuesday as Devin Eichenlaub, 39.

Two deputies approached Eichenlaub about 5:30 p.m. Sunday to talk to him in a residential neighborhood, at Flangel Street and Paramount Boulevard, west of the Lakewood Country Club. But, the Sheriff's Department said, Eichenlaub bolted and the deputies thought he was trying to conceal a handgun.

A fight erupted and Eichenlaub allegedly resisted and kicked deputies for about five minutes before they handcuffed him and, officials said, discovered three things: He was not breathing, he had no pulse and he was holding a cellphone, not a gun.

Authorities said that deputies and paramedics resuscitated Eichenlaub and that he was taken in critical condition to a nearby hospital, where he died Monday evening.

The investigation has been taken over by sheriff's homicide detectives. The Los Angeles County district attorney's and coroner's offices also are looking into the case.

Capt. Ray Peavy of the sheriff's homicide unit said late Tuesday that Eichenlaub "was clutching his waistband" and "trying to avoid any interaction" with the deputies, raising their suspicions.

The two deputies in the fight, who work out of the sheriff's substation in Lakewood, suffered moderate injuries and were treated at a hospital and released.

Mike Gennaco, chief attorney with the sheriff's Office of Independent Review, said the incident was observed by several witnesses. He said the victim previously "had other encounters with the police and they had been violent."

As to why Eichenlaub was stopped for questioning, Gennaco said the deputies "had made a gun arrest in that area the day before, and I think they were concerned."

"I think it was mostly instinct," he said. "When they had tried to conduct a consensual encounter, to ask some questions, he started reaching for his waistband. That's what's been conveyed to me."

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Times staff writer Stuart Silverstein contributed to this report.

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