LA Police Chief, Aide Present Details in Fatal Shooting of Driver, 13
Los Angeles Police Department officials on Wednesday presented an unusually detailed account of last weekend's police shooting of a 13-year-old boy, as officials sought to refute what Chief William J. Bratton called "rumors" that people "are trying to spread."
Bratton and one of his top deputies offered their account of the physical evidence gathered in the shooting of Devin Brown, an African American youth who was killed after a brief high-speed pursuit in South Los Angeles shortly before 4 a.m. Sunday.
The briefing, which was carried live on several local television news programs, included a laser-produced reenactment of the collision between the car Devin was in and a police cruiser, pictures of skid marks used to estimate the speed of his car and a recording of the police officer's call at the start of the pursuit.
Bratton called the presentation an "attempt to give you some sense of what we believe happened at the intersection of Western and 83rd," where the teen was shot.
Deputy Chief Michael Berkow then detailed the physical evidence. Although at the start of his presentation, Berkow noted that the information was preliminary and could change, his description was peppered with words such as "scientific" and "definitive," which seemed designed to stress the reliability of the police findings.
The briefing was a notable break from the secrecy that traditionally has shrouded LAPD investigations of shootings by police. The chief also announced that he had invited the FBI to join the probe.
The shooting has become a racially charged incident, with some African American community leaders calling it an example of the heavy-handed and brutal treatment of young black males by police.
Despite Bratton's high-tech presentation Wednesday, the briefing added few new details to the original police account. It differed on several points from versions of the incident that have been offered by some relatives of Devin's as well as community activists.
For example, Brandon Washington, a relative who has identified himself as a spokesman for the family, said in interviews that Devin and another boy were returning home from a sleepover. The car belonged to a cousin of the other boy, Washington said. Neither family members nor the police have identified the second boy.
Bratton, by contrast, said repeatedly that "that car was stolen."
He also denied allegations by Washington that Devin was not driving the car at the time the police pursued it.
"During those four minutes, he was driving the vehicle," Bratton said. "During the other four hours [the car was missing], what was going on with the vehicle that information we'd like to have."
In his description of the shooting itself, the chief estimated that "the whole scenario took about six seconds," from the time the maroon Toyota Camry collided with the patrol car to the time shots were fired.
Police officials say the incident began earlier in the evening, when the Camry was stolen from in front of an apartment building in the 2100 block of West 54th Street. Bratton said the owner of the car last saw the vehicle about 12:15 a.m. and noticed it was missing half an hour later, reporting it stolen to the 77th Street Division shortly afterward.
At 3:49 a.m., Officer Steve Garcia, who would shoot Devin roughly four minutes later, first saw the Camry at the intersection of Grand and Gage avenues. He and his partner, Officer Dana Grant, both of the Newton Division, which covers a portion of South Los Angeles, then saw the car run a red light where Gage crosses under the Harbor Freeway.
The officers radioed a report of a suspected drunk driver. A recording of the call, with sirens audible in the background, was played at Wednesday's news conference.
The officers then pursued the Camry, which ran up onto the curb at Western Avenue and 83rd Street, after apparently failing to make a right turn. Based on skid marks at the scene, Berkow said, the Camry was going 40 to 50 mph at that point.
Then, with Grant and Garcia's patrol car stopped behind it, the Camry moved back 21 feet, striking the police vehicle, Berkow said. The car went back an additional 18 feet leaving paint marks from its driver's side mirror on the trunk of the patrol car before rolling forward to a final stop nearly side-by-side with the patrol car, according to Berkow.
Berkow would not say precisely when the shots were fired. But at 3:53 a.m., a call was made from a patrol car from the neighboring 77th Street Division. That police car, at the corner of Western and 83rd, reported a collision between the Camry and Garcia's patrol car.
As they were broadcasting the accident, Bratton said, there was a "very slight hesitation and then reports of shots fired."
An ambulance was requested at 3:56 a.m., police said.
Bratton said Devin's body was found in the driver's seat. A 14-year-old who fled from the front passenger's door on foot was arrested near the scene.
Devin's autopsy report is not being released, at police request, pending the investigation, Los Angeles County Coroner's officials said Wednesday.
Berkow and Bratton refused to answer questions about witness or officer statements, citing confidentiality concerns. They said that Garcia was out of the vehicle at the time he fired 10 rounds, but they would not comment on where he was standing or where Grant was at the time of the shooting.
As police detailed their account of the incident, family members offered a fuller portrait of Devin, describing him as a mama's boy whose life was upended last year by his father's death from a respiratory ailment.
The boy went into a tailspin when his father died, said Washington, who said he was a cousin. "He took it the way any young child might."
The night of the shooting, Devin was sleeping over at a friend's house, Washington said. He had been at the friend's house one night, and in the middle of the second night, he decided he wanted to come home but did not call his mother.
Devin was a "go-with-the-flow" kind of boy, Washington said. "It's not like he was this brave adventurer."
Teachers said Devin, an eighth-grade student at Audubon Middle School, was always polite, but family members knew he had a more mischievous side. Devin was the type of kid who would pull his sister's hair or punch his cousin in the arm and pretend someone else had done it, they said. Or he would make faces and instantly compose his face as though he had never changed his expression.
"Devin was a nervous, little kid; if he thought something was too much for him, he wouldn't do it," Washington said.
This year, for the first time, Devin's mother had agreed that her boy could play Pop Warner football. She was concerned that he might get hurt, Washington said. Devin was excited about playing defense and getting his football gear.
Devin was close to his parents, Washington said. Devin's father, Charles Brown, was involved with construction work, which took him away from home, according to Washington. Desiring more time with his children, Brown got a job at a local school. Susan Cox, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Unified School District, confirmed that Brown had been employed by the district but said she could not name the school.
Since the father's death, family members had noticed that Devin had been staying out longer and getting in trouble at school for talking and missing some classes. He also had more time on his own.
Teachers say that Devin was respectful but not an enthusiastic student. Like some boys in his classes, Devin was more interested in girls and sports than academics, they said.
Last year, one of his favorite movies was "Remember the Titans," about high school football and discrimination. He could recite passages by Rev, a quarterback who gets hurt.
His memory of the movie was so good that his history teacher, Brenda Bright, began calling him "Rev." Bright called Devin one of her favorite students. "There was a sweetness about him," she said. "I saw an innocence and a sweetheart."
This year, Devin continued to have a problem applying himself in school and sometimes missed classes, teachers said. His favorite subject was history, but he missed a month of classes, said Bryan Johnson, another history teacher.
Since Christmas, however, Johnson said that Devin had gotten back on track and had begun attending classes more regularly.
Johnson's first impression of Devin was that he was "a handful," because he was funny and could disrupt the class with his uncannily accurate imitations. In one recent class, Johnson remembered, Devin, who had just gotten a new cellphone, had classmates howling with his imitation of a cellphone ad.
It was humorous, Johnson said, but as a result his teacher kicked him out of class. Johnson said he worried about the crowd that Devin was hanging around with.
Cleo Pierce had the same concern. Pierce, who once lived next door to the Brown family, remembered how the boy and his sister played on her porch. Pierce said she thought Devin had started hanging out with different people after his father died.
"When his father was living, they would hang out every day after school," she said. "He hadn't done that since. He just got with the wrong crowd."