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Police Commission rules LAPD officers justified in April shooting, but disapproves of tactics

Police Commission rules LAPD officers justified in April
shooting, but disapproves of tactics 1

The Los Angeles Police Commission ruled Tuesday that two LAPD officers were justified in fatally shooting an armed 28-year-old man in a South Central alleyway last April, though it disapproved of some of the officers’ tactics.

The unanimous vote came after the commission heard directly from Daniel Hernandez Bravo’s family members, who questioned why the officers had to open fire and why Bravo was left on the ground with no immediate medical care afterward.

“Why was he not given any aid?” Bravo’s mother, Guillermina Bravo-Valiente, asked the commissioners in Spanish. “Do you believe they were correct with what they did? Because to me it seems like an injustice the way he died.”

Bravo was a passenger in one of two stopped vehicles that Newton Division patrol officers Kevin Ruiz and Luke Coyle pulled alongside about 9:40 p.m. on April 30 in the 2200 block of Wall Street, according to police. The officers told investigators that they’d noticed fresh “Flats” graffiti on a nearby building — an alleged tag marking territory of the Primera Flats gang — and suspected the vehicles’ occupants may be gang members.

As the officers considered making an investigative stop and shined their flashlights at the men, the driver of the BMW that Bravo was in suddenly sped off in reverse, smashed into a parked car and then drove forward into an alleyway, according to police and dashboard video released by the department.

The officers drove after the BMW, with the officer in the passenger seat pulling out his handgun as they drove, and then stopped behind the BMW in the alleyway as Bravo and two other men — driver Jose Hernandez and a second passenger, Anthony Villegas — all got out of the BMW and ran in different directions.

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As Bravo ran past the patrol vehicle, the officer on the passenger side jumped out, gun already drawn. Bravo then appeared to stumble, pick a gun up off the ground and turn slightly in the officers’ direction with the gun up in the air, according to body-camera video from the scene.

The officer said he saw the gun fall out of Bravo’s waistband, and believed Bravo had picked it back up — as opposed to running past it — in order to fire on the officers. The officer fired three times, before his partner, coming around the patrol vehicle, fired once.

Both officers told investigators that they feared for their lives and believed Bravo presented an immediate threat.

Bravo could then be heard moaning on the ground afterward as the officers screamed “Don’t move!” and “Flat on the ground!” as they backed away with their own guns still raised. Only later did other officers approach Bravo — to put him in handcuffs. Bravo died at the scene.

Agreeing with the assessment of LAPD Chief Michel Moore, the commission voted 4-0 that the officers acted reasonably when they shot Bravo. But the panel also unanimously agreed with Moore in disapproving of the officers’ tactics in the lead-up to the shooting.

In his report to the panel, Moore wrote that the officers broke policy by not alerting dispatch to their position when they stopped to speak with a group of men who they suspected of being gang members — making it more difficult for backup to arrive after the shooting. He also wrote that one of the officers broke policy when he took his gun out of its holster during the brief vehicle pursuit.

Moore and other police officials also found the officers had broken with policy when they positioned their vehicle close behind the BMW in the alleyway, which was a dead end, and when the second officer shot at Bravo while his partner was near his line of fire. However, they determined those deviations were justified.

Moore also found justified the actions of various supervisors who arrived at the scene and directed events after the shooting, including the slow, tactical approach to Bravo’s side by the officers who put him in handcuffs. An ambulance was called to the scene, but Bravo died there on the street.

The commission ruled after Bravo’s mother and sister each questioned the officers’ actions during the public portion of the commission’s virtual Zoom meeting Tuesday morning — asking through tears why he had been left wounded on the street without any immediate medical assistance from the officers involved.

“It’s so hard to watch the video over and over again, trying to analyze what happened and having to hear my brother asking for help,” said Bravo’s sister, Perla Hernandez. “My brother’s on the floor, he’s in pain, and nobody is helping him.”

A recent Los Angeles Times analysis found that the Police Commission has found the actions of LAPD officers to be flawed in a majority of recent LAPD shootings, and that officers’ tactics before they opened fire were flawed in nearly half the department’s fatal shootings since 2018.

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