Probe LAPD Homeless Shooting FWD

Tom Boland (
Tue, 25 May 1999 18:16:45 -0700 (PDT)

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Can media and protests help to pressure reluctant officials to fairly probe
alleged police burtality?

See related article below:
FWD  Los Angeles Times EDITORIAL- Tuesday, May 25, 1999 02:52:18


Friday's fatal police shooting of a tiny homeless woman who was
allegedly armed with a screwdriver demands a thorough investigation.

The circumstances raise alarms. The presumably physically fit Los
Angeles Police Department bicycle officers (a man and a woman) had eight
years of experience between them and a variety of force options,
including collapsible batons and pepper spray. They were pitted against a
54-year-old, 5-foot-1, 102-pound mentally ill woman whom they had stopped
on La Brea Avenue to determine whether her shopping cart was stolen. The
woman, Margaret Laverne Mitchell, was well known in the area and
apparently not perceived as a threat.

The actual events are fuzzy. According to police, the woman became
verbally abusive when the officers questioned her. A bystander reportedly
attempted to intercede, distracting the officers. A chase on foot began
at this point. Then, according to police, Mitchell lunged with a very
long screwdriver at the male officer, who, falling back and feeling
seriously threatened, shot her.

The compelling question, of course, is the use of force. People want
to know why two officers were unable to subdue Mitchell with something
far short of lethal force. Who really forced the incident to its deadly
climax? Was it Mitchell? Did the officers commit a series of tactical
mistakes that placed one in the position of fearing for his life? These
questions lead to the most troubling one: Were these officers properly

Already, U.S. Atty. Michael J. Gennaco, who oversees civil rights
prosecutions, has asked the FBI to determine whether the officer used
excessive force or violated Mitchell's civil rights. "The allegations
that have been made in this case warrant a federal investigation,"
Gennaco told Times reporters. An LAPD internal review also will examine
the case, with Police Chief Bernard C. Parks the ultimate arbiter.

Certainly, too, the Police Commission should have the matter on its
agenda for initial discussion tonight. This is obviously a case that the
commission's next inspector general, who might be chosen by the board
tonight, should follow closely.

Citizens can have confidence in the officers sworn to protect them
only when such tragic incidents are thrown into the full light of public
scrutiny. That must happen here.


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