Crime & Justice

Officers who killed man in Van Nuys were briefed on rap video, attorney says

A still from a video that appeared on Instagram was apparently intended as promotion for a rap album, police said.
A still from a video that appeared on Instagram was apparently intended as promotion for a rap album, police said.
Courtesy NBC4

The two Los Angeles police officers who shot and killed a man in Van Nuys Saturday night after having their back window shattered had a threatening video in their mind at the time, according to their attorney.

It turned out that the window was shattered by someone who had thrown a beer bottle, but the officers had in mind a video they'd been briefed on showing a person in a car, parked behind a police car and videoing police, showing a gun to the camera.

"The intimation of this video, from the perspective of the police, was, hey, you better be careful, because we can ambush you and attack you at any time, because you're unaware of what we're doing. And so the officers had this in mind during this incident, when their window exploded," said Gary Fullerton, the attorney representing the officers for the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

The officers had been briefed on the video and believed they were being shot at in an ambush from the rear, Fullerton said. 

An investigation later revealed the video was shot as part of a comeback campaign for a '90s rap group and that it was made for entertainment purposes only. Police have not said which group was behind the video but in a statement indicated a warrant had been issued for the arrest of one member who had a prior conviction for carrying a firearm.

Fullerton said he believed the video should have an impact on how the officers' actions are seen. He cited the U.S. Supreme Court case of Graham v. Connor, which found that officers are supposed to be judged in a use of force incident based on their reasonable perception at the time, Fullerton said.

"Not what they found out later, not what ultimately happened, but what did they reasonably perceive at that moment when they used deadly force," Fullerton said.

As for why the suspect threw the beer bottle at the officers' car, Fullerton said that wasn't known, but that he expected it was similar to recent hostility against police due to incidents like the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson.

"Unfortunately, the suspect here paid the ultimate price for his stupidity," Fullerton said.

The officers' names have yet to be released. Fullerton said that the Police Protective League believes officers' names should not be released, but that court precedent requires the department itself to do so at some point unless there's a particular threat against those officers or another factor that would require their names not be released.

This story has been updated.