Crime & Justice

LA Sheriff’s deputy who opened fire during a car chase may have broken the rules

A still from an image shot by NBC4 shows a suspect (in middle squad car, stolen) fleeing as an L.A. Sheriff's Department deputy points his gun at the man.
A still from an image shot by NBC4 shows a suspect (in middle squad car, stolen) fleeing as an L.A. Sheriff's Department deputy points his gun at the man.

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A Tuesday morning car chase led to a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy firing at a moving vehicle, a practice the department has recently moved to restrict. 

The incident began when a patient at the Olive View Medical Center stole a patrol car, leading deputies on a half-hour chase around the San Fernando Valley. Helicopter footage from NBC4 captured the shooting, which occurred after the man had backed into a patrol car and was speeding away.

The chase continued until the shirtless suspect surrendered in Reseda.

The deputy's gunfire didn't strike the man, but he sustained cuts and bruises from debris or shrapnel as a result of the shooting, according to Sheriff's Lieutenant Derrick Alfred. The suspect was transported to the hospital following the incident. No deputies were injured, said Sgt. Vincent Plair.

The shooting comes a year after the Sheriff’s Department rewrote its policy on moving vehicle shootings, to essentially ban the practice. Shooting into moving vehicles is considered dangerous and ineffective by many in law enforcement.

The new sheriff’s policy states, "the use of firearms against moving motor vehicles is inherently dangerous and almost always ineffective."

The policy change followed a KPCC investigation that showed deputies had shot into moving vehicles at least nine times between 2010 and 2014. The new policy states that shooting at cars is acceptable only in "extraordinary" circumstances. 

The Sheriff's homicide bureau will investigate Tuesday's shooting.

"It does raise some issues given the policy they have," said Chuck Wexler, president of the Police Executive Research Forum and frequent critic of law enforcement shooting at moving vehicles. "It will be incumbent to further investigate and understand why this officer decided to choose the course of action he did."

Wexler cautioned that a single video can present an incomplete picture of the circumstances surrounding a shooting.

Police have shot into moving vehicles in communities across Southern California. KPCC found 28 moving car shootings in L.A. County in a recent five-year period; and an additional 15 people were shot in San Bernardino in a six-year span, 11 of them unarmed.

While some departments have recently moved to tighten policies on shooting at moving cars, Wexler noted that police in New York ended the practice in the 1970s. "It's a sound policy and it's made sense for 40 years," he said.

The issue has become more fraught in recent months, as cars have been weaponized in mass killings several times in Europe and in New York City on Tuesday.

The incident this morning began with a call about a disturbance involving a man armed with a pole at Olive View Medical Center. After the chase and the shooting, the man surrendered and received medical treatment. He was booked at the Santa Clarita station and charged with assault on a police office and reckless evading, according to Alfred.