03/23/2010

ACLU 'disturbed' by L.A. police shooting

Family members say that officers shot an autistic, unarmed man

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — A fatal weekend police shooting of an unarmed man who family members say was autistic prompted the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California on Monday to urge the Los Angeles Police Department to re-examine its policies.

Steven Eugene Washington was shot by gang enforcement officers Allan Corrales and George Diego near Los Angeles' Koreatown shortly after midnight Saturday after he approached them and appeared to remove something from his waistband, police said. No weapon was recovered.

Corrales and Diego heard a loud noise while driving in their patrol car and turned around to see Washington. The officers said the 27-year-old was looking around suspiciously and manipulating something in his waist area.

When the officers tried to stop Washington to investigate, he quickly approached them and seemed to pull something from his waistband, Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger told reporters at a news conference Saturday afternoon.

Each officer fired once and Washington was hit in the head, police said.

The officers fired "with the belief that he was arming himself, and in defense of their lives," Paysinger said.

Corrales and Diego called paramedics, who pronounced Washington dead at the scene.

ACLU of Southern California Executive Director Ramona Ripston said the organization was deeply troubled by the shooting.

"The initial news coverage of the incident shed little light on why lethal force was necessary when officers were not responding to any report of criminal activity and had no reason to suspect Mr. Washington of a crime just because they heard a loud noise as they were driving past," Ripston said in a statement.

"We urge the LAPD to go beyond a one-time investigation examining the conduct of the officers, and take a broader look at changes in department policy and training that could help prevent such a tragedy from recurring," she said.

Family members said at a news conference Saturday that Washington was autistic and had never shown any signs of violence or had any trouble with police.

"They assured us that they are investigating, they also assured us that they care, so all we want is answers," aunt Vickie Thompson said.

The LAPD's Force Investigation Division and the district attorney's office are investigating the shooting.

Corrales has been with the LAPD for nearly seven years, and Diego for nearly eight years, police said.

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