Crime & Justice

Why police say shooting of Redel Jones was 'in-policy'

Black Lives Matter protesters assembled outside a meeting of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners at LAPD headquarters on July 12, 2016. The commission concluded LAPD officers' shooting in August 2015 of a 30-year-old black woman, Redel Kentel Jones, was justified.
Black Lives Matter protesters assembled outside a meeting of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners at LAPD headquarters on July 12, 2016. The commission concluded LAPD officers' shooting in August 2015 of a 30-year-old black woman, Redel Kentel Jones, was justified.
Frank Stoltze / KPCC

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A 30-year-old black woman took lunging steps toward a Los Angeles police officer holding a knife aloft, sufficient grounds to justify the four shots that were fired and killed her last year, the police commission concluded in its report released Tuesday on the incident.

In a decision that angered members of Black Lives Matter and led to tense demonstrations, the civilian Board of Police Commissioners sided with Chief Charlie Beck in deciding that, while officers who pursued Redel Jones after a robbery report acted outside of department policies in some of their actions, the shooting itself fell within its policies.

The commission's determination in Jones' death comes as relations between police and black communities have grown strained following recent officer-involved killings of African-Americans in Minnesota and Louisiana and the sniper attack in Dallas that left five officers dead.

New details about the death of Jones, who was shot in an alley near the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw shopping mall in South L.A. on Aug. 12, emerged from the reports issued by the L.A. police chief and police commission.

The officers, who according to department practice are not named, were responding to a holdup at a pharmacy by a woman wearing a purple scarf and baggy clothing. Two officers in a police car working together for the first time spotted Jones, who matched the suspect's description, according to the reports.

After following her in their car and ordering her to stop, the officers pursued her on foot as she ducked down an alleyway between Marlton Avenue and Somerset Drive. As officers approached, Jones turned around with a knife in her hand raised head high and stepped toward one of them, the police said.

A third officer who had joined the chase approached Jones with a Taser, but when the device was discharged, it didn't make contact with her.

The officer described as "Officer G" then fired when Jones came within about six feet. When Jones went down, the officer observed Jones was "still moving a little bit" and kicked the knife away from her.

Other police officers arrived and she was handcuffed as she lay on the ground wounded. Los Angeles Fire Department personnel arrived and began to treat her, but she didn't respond and was pronounced dead.

A coroner's autopsy revealed Jones was shot four times; three wounds were described as front-to-back and one left-to-right.

The commission said the officers who first encountered Jones acted out of policy in several instances, for example, failing to advise their command of their location when they first tried to stop Jones and failing to activate their in-car video system. 

The officers from LAPD's Southwest Patrol Division were not equipped with body cameras.

In their most significant finding, the commissioners determined that an officer with training and experience similar to that of "Officer G" would "reasonably believe that the Subject's [Jones'] actions while armed with a knife presented an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury and, therefore, the use of lethal force would be objectively reasonable."

Some demonstrators refused to believe Jones had a knife. Others argued police should have found a way to disarm her without killing her.

Jones' husband, Marcus Vaughn, 28, traveled from Oakland where he lives with their two children to attend the commission's meeting. After the decision, he said, he felt frustration.

"Because, you know, it was downright murder, so some kind of action should have been taken," Vaughn said. "I still feel knots in my stomach over this whole thing. It's sickening."

At the commission, Chief Beck called for more dialogue between police and community members, even while he was interrupted by someone in the crowd.

"Nobody wants to have a discussion," said Beck. "Everyone wants to demagogue."

The chief said in his estimation, the problem is one of gun violence, not police violence. He noted 40 percent of murder victims are African-American.

After the commission's decision, protesters temporarily closed the east entrance to City Hall, the one used by the public. But the demonstration remained generally peaceful.

Out-of-policy rulings are fairly rare, though not unheard-of, according to a KPCC analysis. In rulings handed down from 2011 through 2015, the police commission more often found that officers' "tactics" were inappropriate. Far less often, commissioners found that use of lethal force was out of policy.

You can read the reports below: 

LAPD Chief Beck's report

Document: Chief Beck's report

Police Commission report

Document: Police Commission's findings