A federal jury in Los Angeles deliberated for less than two hours Wednesday before deciding two Long Beach police officers were not justified in their fatal shooting of a 19-year-old man in 2013.
The officers shot Tyler Woods 19 times. Woods, who was African-American, was unarmed.
The shooting occurred around 3 a.m. after a traffic stop. Woods was a passenger. He ran away while police were questioning him and ended up on a nearby rooftop.
Long Beach officers Daniel Martinez and John Fagan said they believed Woods was armed when they fired their weapons at him from the ground.
Martinez held his front waistband as he ran away, according to the officers. Police are trained to suspect someone has a gun if they are holding their waistband. In addition, officers had been told over their radios that Woods had an outstanding warrant for armed robbery.
L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey determined the shooting was justified.
“Given the totality of the facts in the present case, we find that officers Martinez and Fagan acted lawfully in self-defense and in defense of others,” the letter written by her office, declining to file charges, said. The letter cited Woods' “desperate efforts to escape” as another reason the officers were justified to shoot.
The jury in the federal civil rights case saw the circumstances differently, finding the officers were negligent. They awarded $1 million to Woods' parents and $1.9 million to his four-year-old son.
“The jury’s verdict in this case reflects a shifting tide among the community,” said attorney John Fattahi, who represents Woods' son. “When a police officer shoots and kills an unarmed person, we will not uncritically accept ‘he reached for his waistband’ as an excuse.”
Attorneys for Woods’ parents noted that it had been broadcast on police radios that Woods had been patted down for weapons before fleeing. Officers Martinez and Fagan said they did not hear the broadcast.
The Long Beach Shooting Review Board found the shooting in policy.
But then-Police Chief Jim McDonnell overruled the decision. McDonnell is now sheriff of Los Angeles County.
The incident was one of several controversial police shootings to rock Long Beach in recent years. In 2013, a jury found police used excessive force when they shot another unarmed man, Douglas Zerby. His family was awarded $6.5 million.
Later this year, Long Beach is expected to face two more jury trials involving men fatally shot by Long Beach police officers, according to attorney Dale Galipo. One was allegedly armed with a baseball bat, the other with a wooden stick.