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Officer Involved: District attorneys on why officer-involved shootings are so tough to prosecute




Richard Lewis of the Santa Monica Police Department speaks to the media during a press conference on June 7, 2015 after a shooting on the Santa Monica College campus. Police shot and killed the gunman.
Richard Lewis of the Santa Monica Police Department speaks to the media during a press conference on June 7, 2015 after a shooting on the Santa Monica College campus. Police shot and killed the gunman.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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In September of 2000, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced it would bring criminal charges against Ronald Orosco, a then-30-year-old LAPD officer who, three months prior, shot an unarmed black man in the back after an argument over a traffic stop.

Facing 25 to life, Orosco pled down and received a five year sentence in state prison. He served three.

Since then, no on-duty officer in Los Angeles County has been charged for shooting a civilian. A recent KPCC investigation into officer-involved shootings in Los Angeles County from 2010-2014 found that 375 people were shot by on-duty law enforcement in that time.

In many cases, there’s simply not enough evidence for a prosecutor to take the case to court. Even when officer-involved shooting cases do make it to trial, prosecutors say it’s very difficult to convince 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer acted outside the law.

There’s also the issue of how closely law enforcement officers work with the District Attorney’s Office. Law enforcement work closely with the DA, often testifying on behalf of the prosecution in other criminal cases.

With more officers using body cameras and more citizens recording police interactions with their cell phones, prosecutors may have more evidence than they have in the past, and that could allow district attorneys the ability to bring charges where wouldn't have been able in the past.

Today, Larry speaks with two former Los Angeles County district attorneys about the challenges prosecutors face when deciding whether to charge a law enforcement officer in the shooting of a civilian.

For more on KPCC’s ‘Officer Involved’ series, click here.

Guests:

Gil Garcetti, former Los Angeles County District Attorney from 1992 to 2000

Steve Cooley, former Los Angeles County District Attorney from 2000 to 2012