Crime & Justice

LAPD shooting in Watts draws criticism, praise

The shooting of a young black man by the LAPD Monday night occurred at the end of this street in the Nickerson Gardens Housing Project, one of the largest public housing projects in the country. Police say the man shot at them.
The shooting of a young black man by the LAPD Monday night occurred at the end of this street in the Nickerson Gardens Housing Project, one of the largest public housing projects in the country. Police say the man shot at them.
Frank Stoltze

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The fatal shooting shooting of a young black man by police in Watts Monday night came after an exchange of gunfire with officers, according to a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman.

One officer was slightly wounded in the incident, which drew an angry crowd of protestors.

Two officers were on patrol in the sprawling Nickerson Gardens housing project when they spotted a group of people who appeared to be gang members, said LAPD Sgt. Barry Montgomery. The department has increased patrols of the area after a rash of gang-related shootings in the last 10 days left two people dead and nine injured.

When officers approached the group Monday, one person ran, said Montgomery. The department has yet to identify that man and the officers involved.

As officers were chasing him, they saw he had a gun. The department won’t say who opened fire first, but a “running gun battle” ensued for about a block, said Montgomery. Officers recovered a gun at the scene.

Montgomery said the officers’ actions were an example of good police work. 

“The attempt to engage that group unfortunately resulted in the loss of life, but it may have prevented the loss of others,” he said.

The Los Angeles County district attorney, the city's civilian police commission and LAPD investigators will examine the incident.

The shooting comes amid increased scrutiny of police. And some residents don’t believe the LAPD’s version of events.

“These police officers around here, they are very crooked,” said Tiana Wade. “You can’t trust them.”

Wade heard the gunshots. She estimated there were as many as 40. At first she thought they were firecrackers.

“My son said, ‘no mom those were gunshots.”

Her two sons, ages 16 and 17, knew the man who died. She called him a “good kid.”

Some residents argue police acted properly.

The officers were “just doing their job” when they opened fire on a man shooting at them, said Carlos Lopez.

“You got a gun, police are going to get you,” he said. “I trust the police.”

Wade worries about her two boys, who will soon be men. “It makes me more fearful about their interactions with the police,” she said.

“But you have to take cover at all times basically,” she said of Nickerson Gardens, where gangs remain a menacing force.

“Either you have to watch the police, or the people.”