Crime & Justice

Beck says fatal police shooting of unarmed man in Burbank wasn't justified

File: LAPD Chief Charlie Beck addresses the media at Police Headquarters in Los Angeles, California.
File: LAPD Chief Charlie Beck addresses the media at Police Headquarters in Los Angeles, California.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

A Los Angeles police officer was not justified when he shot and killed an unarmed man following a high-speed pursuit in Burbank last year, according to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.

The shooting occurred in April after police attempted to pull 35-year-old Sergio Navas over for reckless driving.

In a memo to the police commission, Beck wrote that the officer’s lethal use of force was “not objectively reasonable and Out of Policy.”

Police earlier identified the officer as Brian Van Gorden.

Navas’ family filed a $10 million lawsuit against the department and the city shortly after the incident.

“The family is gratified that the police commission did find that the shooting was out of policy, but this is only the beginning of justice, because the family wants to see that the officer is no longer patrolling the city streets for the safety of the public," Navas family attorney Luis Carrillo told KPCC.

Carrillo said that the family would also like to see the district attorney file manslaughter charges against Van Gorden and for a jury to side with the family in their civil suit to "award a measure of justice for the children who have lost a father and lifelong support."

Navas had three children, Carrillo said. He estimated that the case would go to trial in 2017.

According to the memo, the incident started when officers saw a Mercury sedan driving at 80 mph to 100 mph in a 35 mph zone.

In their initial traffic stop, officers noticed the car had a paper license plate and suspected it was stolen. It was later determined that the vehicle had been stolen a month earlier.

As one of the officers approached the passenger side of the car, Navas sped off, leading police on a pursuit that took them from North Hollywood to a residential neighborhood in Burbank.

Navas stopped abruptly at a dead end, and the pursuing officers had to veer left in an attempt to avoid a collision. The right side mirror and door struck Navas’ driver-side door, according to the investigation.

Officer Van Gorden was on the passenger side of the patrol car, face to face with Navas as the two vehicles sat side by side.

According to the investigation, Navas pushed his door against Van Gorden’s, preventing the officer from getting out.

Van Gorden told investigators Navas stood up and faced him. At that point, fearing an ambush, Van Gorden drew his gun and fired six rounds from his seat. The two men were only a foot apart.

The investigation concluded that Van Gorden could not see whether Navas was armed because his hands were concealed behind the door frame.

“I didn’t want wait around [sic] and find out…my intention was never to kill the defendant. It was to stop him,” Van Gorden said, according to the memo. “I was in fear for my life. I thought he was going to shoot me. And I did what I could to protect myself and my partner.”

But Beck wrote that he agreed with a use-of-force review board “that an officer with similar training and experience … would not reasonably believe Navas’ actions presented an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury” to officers.

Navas ultimately ran from the scene after being shot, collapsing in an alley. Officers handcuffed him after a scuffle on the ground, and when they turned him over, discovered he had a gunshot wound to the chest.

Fire Department personnel attempted to treat him, but he was declared dead at the scene.

In addition to finding Van Gorden’s lethal use of force out of policy, the review board found fault with officers’ tactical communication throughout the incident and with their decision to stop alongside Navas’ vehicle.

In the claim, the family noted that Navas was unarmed “and he did not pose a risk of death or serious bodily injury to any person.”

In a separate case Tuesday, the police commission found officers were in policy in the fatal shooting of an unarmed homeless man on Skid Row.

This story ahs been updated.