07/20/2007

Calif. officers fatally shoot burglary suspects weilding yard tools

By Stuart Silverstein and Jack Leonard
Los Angeles Times

TORRANCE, Calif. — Two burglary suspects killed by officers are said to have been armed with 'sharp yard tools.' 
 
The two home burglary suspects trapped in a backyard shed who were shot to death by Torrance police last weekend were not carrying guns but touched off the fatal showdown by moving "aggressively" toward officers with "sharp yard tools," the city's Police Department said Wednesday.

A preliminary review of officers' actions in the case -- the third shooting of suspects by Torrance police in less than two weeks -- turned up "nothing discernible" to indicate that they had used excessive force, according to Lt. Rod Irvine, the department's spokesman.

He also said officers called out to the suspects "numerous" times to come out of the shed and surrender before the deadly confrontation occurred.

However, Peter Bibring, a lawyer who specializes in police practices for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said the episode "raises concerns." He called on the 240-member Torrance Police Department to release more details.

In addition, two friends of the slain men, who said they were in contact by cellphone with the suspects shortly before they were killed Saturday afternoon, have maintained that the pair were ready to surrender.

The slain suspects have been identified as Charlie Maurice Wilson, 20, of Gardena and Shaun Conely Devell McCoy, 22, of Adelanto. A third suspect, Erin Jamahl Madden, 19, of Harbor City, was arrested during the incident. Madden is a highly regarded football player who played at San Bernardino Valley College but has been enrolled recently at the Compton campus of El Camino College.

Madden, who was spotted in Torrance on Saturday driving a red Chevrolet Cavalier that police suspected of being linked to the burglary, was stopped by officers and arrested.

Madden has been arraigned in connection with the incident Saturday as well as in a burglary Friday and has pleaded not guilty to one count of attempted burglary and one count of burglary.

Police disclosed Wednesday that they were also seeking a "gang enhancement" to the charges, alleging that Madden, Wilson and McCoy all belonged to a "notorious, violent street gang" with roots in South Los Angeles and with members in various parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

Police did not identify the gang.

The search that led to Saturday's shooting began about 10:30 a.m., after a neighbor called police and reported that two men rang the doorbell of a home in the 2600 block of 231st Street, a few blocks west of Crenshaw Boulevard.

Neighbors said the two men then jumped over a gate into the backyard and tried to break in to the home. That followed reports of three similar incidents Friday.

After the call Saturday, officers, using police dogs and a Long Beach Police Department helicopter, conducted a yard-to-yard search for nearly four hours.

Eventually, officers zeroed in on a small shed in the backyard of a house on the block where the attempted burglary took place.

According to a one-page news release issued Wednesday by Torrance police, "officers began yelling for anyone inside to step out and give themselves up. Officers gave numerous commands from outside the shed, but they heard no responses from within."

Then, the statement said, officers decided to search the shed. They "were immediately confronted by both Wilson and McCoy, who had armed themselves with sharp yard tools. The suspects moved aggressively toward the officers with the weapons in hand, and the officers, in fear for their lives, fired multiple shots and stopped the suspects."

Irvine refused to say how close the suspects were to officers or whether they were inside the shed when the shooting occurred.

He also refused to indicate what tools Wilson and McCoy were carrying, saying only that they were "sharp" and apparently stored in the shed. Irvine said no gun was found at the scene.

According to Irvine, "multiple shots" were fired at the suspects by two officers. He said the officers have been placed on paid leave, standard department policy after an officer-involved shooting, to make sure the officers are fit to return to duty. Irvine would not identify the officers or provide any information about their backgrounds.

He said the department plans to provide no further information until full investigations of the burglaries and a complete internal review of the officers' actions are completed, which could take up to six months.

The ACLU's Bibring, however, said Torrance residents should receive a "minute-by-minute" breakdown of the events, including details the department refused to release Wednesday.

"That sort of information is necessary for communities to understand how their police operate," he said.

"Any shooting raises concerns and should be something that a department takes seriously. But that's all the more true when a suspect is armed with something that isn't ordinarily a lethal weapon," Bibring said.

The shootings are being investigated, as is standard practice, by the Justice System Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. Representatives of the district attorney's office declined to comment.

Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times

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