One officer. Four criminals. Thirty-seven shots fired.
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A Burglar Accuses an Officer
On the morning of April 4, 2011 a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy shot a suspect who tried to run from the scene of a burglary. The deputy told investigators the burglar pointed a gun at him. The burglar, who later pleaded guilty, claims the officer planted a gun to justify the shooting.
Investigative reporter Annie Gilbertson combs through the evidence in an effort to piece together what happened that morning.
The Inzunza File
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Gonzalo Inzunza shot at four people in seven months — a cluster of police shootings like few others in Los Angeles County. Each time, Inzunza said he feared for his life, and each time officials found Inzunza was justified to shoot. But three of the men who were shot at tell a different story. They claim Deputy Inzunza either shot without provocation or lied to justify his shootings.
Reporter Annie Gilbertson heads to the home of Deputy Inzunza to ask about his shootings and digs into the background of the men he shot at.
Witnesses in Uniform
All four of the men Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Gonzalo Inzunza shot at were accused of a crime. Tennell Billups believes law enforcement purposefully sought trumped up charges, making Billups look dangerous and Inzunza appear as though he had to shoot. Did the evidence back the men’s claims?
Reporter Annie Gilbertson scours statements from deputies who witnessed the shooting to figure out what they saw the day Billups was shot. She unearths startling details about Billups’ past, further complicating the question of what happened.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigates its own officers’ shootings —a common practice in California. Officials are adamant that their investigations into police shootings are impartial, highly supervised and beyond reproach.
Reporter Annie Gilbertson talks to an investigator assigned to one of Deputy Gonzalo Inzunza’s shootings about discrepancies in the case. Along the way, she discovers some troubling details.
Why do some officers shoot more often than others? Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Forlano fired his gun in seven incidents, grisly experiences he says stems from working busy patrol areas and regularly encountering armed suspects.
Sheriff’s department lore holds that certain deputies are magnets for specific types of crimes — so called “shit magnets” — such as frequently finding suspects with guns.
Reporter Annie Gilbertson finds the sheriff’s department is tracking deputies with multiple shootings, and she raises the question: should repeat shooters remain on patrol?
It often falls to local law enforcement to decide what use of force is reasonable and when officers cross the line. Acceptable conduct can differ depending on where you live.
In California, much of the work of police accountability — from the internal investigations to details of the findings — is kept hidden from public view, some of it by state law. There are some who believe the public is not equipped to understand police behavior. But are these secretive laws protecting officers and their public employers from scrutiny?
Reporter Annie Gilbertson takes what she’s learned about Deputy Gonzalo Inzunza to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials, who promise to review his conduct. Annie does her own review, looking for clues that may point to how officials have determined what level of force is acceptable.
The inspector general of Los Angeles County tells his people to listen to the podcast and look into the questions raised. Sheriff Jim McDonnell is up for re-election, and Deputy Mike Coberg is supporting his opponent. Tennell Billups is transferred to another prison.