LAPD Chief Briefs City Council on Homeless Woman's Death FWD

Tom Boland (
Sat, 5 Jun 1999 17:19:36 -0700 (PDT)

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If you were on Los Angeles City Council, what questions would you have asked
Police Chief Parks about the LAPD shooting death of a homeless woman,
stopped for questioning about whether her shopping cart was stolen?
FWD  Los Angeles Times - Saturday, June 5, 1999


     Shooting: Lawmakers give mixed views of closed session,
     with some saying chief was 'totally defensive' and lacked empathy.

     By MATT LAIT, JOSH MEYER, Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks met behind closed doors
with the City Council on Friday, giving his most complete account to date
of last month's shooting of a homeless woman and reporting that two of 13
witnesses interviewed by police so far contradict the officers' version
of the shooting.

During the one-hour session, council members asked the chief a number
of pointed questions, specifically requesting that he explain why two
LAPD bicycle patrol officers decided to question a physically frail,
mentally ill woman about the shopping cart she was pushing and why one
officer felt the need to use his sidearm when Margaret Laverne Mitchell
allegedly brandished a 12-inch screwdriver.

Parks explained departmental policies on the use of force and
discussed how officers are trained to deal with homeless and mentally ill
people. He provided handouts to illustrate some of his information.

The chief's briefing left council members with mixed impressions. One
lawmaker said the chief's tone was serious and measured. Another
described him as "totally defensive" and "frightening" in his lack of
empathy with Mitchell's situation.

Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, who attended the meeting, declined to be
precise on what Parks and the council discussed. But she confirmed that
she was concerned by some of Parks' responses to questions regarding the
issue of homelessness overall, and regarding why Mitchell was stopped in
the first place.

"There was just a lot of concern that there appears to be a position
taken by the department that if you have a shopping cart that this is a
criminal matter that should be pursued," Goldberg said.

"It was a candid exchange," Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas said. "An
uncomfortable subject matter to say the least. Everyone in the discussion
views it as a terribly unfortunate set of circumstances. Now the question
is what to do about it."

During the briefing, the chief provided a few new details on the
investigation into the May 21 shooting. He said two of 13 witnesses
interviewed so far gave information that was inconsistent with the
accounts of Officers Edward Larrigan and Kathy Clark--the two officers
who confronted Mitchell.

According to the chief's "confidential fact sheet," a copy of which
was obtained by The Times, one witness said Mitchell was shot in the back
and the other contended that she was on the ground when officers trained
their guns on her.

Police Department officials have said other witnesses and physical
evidence, including the autopsy report, contradict those statements. The
chief told the council that investigators are still searching for a
motorist who was stopped by a motorcycle officer across the street from
the shooting to determine if he witnessed anything.

;According to the chief's summary of the incident, Larrigan and Clark
"elected to detain Mitchell for a shopping cart theft investigation" near
La Brea Avenue and 4th Street.

Mitchell refused to comply with the officers' request to stop and
yelled at them to leave her alone, according to the chief's fact sheet.
At the intersection, she stopped and "faced the officers, utilizing the
shopping cart as a barrier," the documents states.

The officers "attempted to verbalize and calm her" but Mitchell
"became angry and armed herself" with the screwdriver "from her shopping
cart," according to the document. The officers drew their guns, and
ordered Mitchell to drop her screwdriver, which she refused to do.

Just as Larrigan was going to use his pepper spray on Mitchell, a
68-year-old motorist intervened to try to "convince Mitchell to drop the
weapon," the document states. Fearing that the motorist was in harm's
way, Larrigan tried to get him to stand back.

With the officer's attention diverted, Mitchell fled, the document
says. The officers pursued her, police said. "Suddenly, Mitchell stopped,
turned . . . toward the officers and again threatened the officers with
the screwdriver," according to the fact sheet.

The officers, who stood seven to nine feet away, according to their
account, told her to drop the weapon, the document says. Mitchell lowered
the screwdriver and "positioned it along her leg," but did not drop it.

"As Officer Larrigan was transmitting a request for an additional
unit, Mitchell raised the screwdriver parallel to the ground in a
thrusting manner and lunged toward the officer," the fact sheet says.
"Officer Larrigan, to avoid being stabbed, moved to his left, east, into
a semi-crouched position and fired one round at Mitchell."

Also during the briefing, the chief provided details on the handling
of past officer-involved shootings. According to a confidential document,
the Police Department's internal investigation of incidents in which
police fired their weapons almost always conclude that officers followed
policy in discharging their firearms.

Police investigated 182 shootings between 1996 and 1998. They found
that 169 were in accordance with the department policy and 16 were not.
Some investigations produced more than one finding.

[Times staff writer Steve Berry contributed to this story.]


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