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Police Shooting Splits Community

January 11, 2000

CLAREMONT, Calif. (AP) _ When 18-year-old Irvin Landrum Jr. was shot by police during a traffic stop, it appeared to be a case of self-defense _ a young man who pulled a gun and fired at officers.

A year after his death, this picturesque Southern California community is divided by two, far different accounts of the same shooting.

On one side is Landrum’s family and others who say that he was unarmed on Jan. 11, 1999, and was shot by police trying to protect themselves from a traffic stop gone bad. On the other are those who say allegations of a coverup are driven by a disgruntled few in the community pursuing an agenda.

``When I first heard what happened, I said gun, traffic stop, Claremont? Uh-uh. This doesn’t make sense,″ said Obee Landrum, the teen’s uncle. ``Then we started asking questions, questions nobody wants to answer.″

Police and city officials say they have been more than forthcoming with information about the shooting, citing outside investigations by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Department of Justice.

``I think at this point we are satisfied,″ said councilman Paul Held.

Once overshadowed by the earlier, more high profile shooting of Tyisha Miller in nearby Riverside, the Landrum case has gained momentum in recent months. The police shooting has prompted weekly demonstrations in front of City Hall since August and an FBI investigation into possible civil rights violations.

``We couldn’t say anything because we didn’t know what happened,″ Landrum said. ``As far as the public was concerned, this was a young man with a gun who shot at police. ... But that started to change when all these things came out.″

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office found that the officers, Hany Hanna and Kent Jacks, were not criminally culpable.

One of the most disputed points is whether Landrum was armed the night he was pulled over for speeding.

The two officers said Landrum drew a gun and fired, missing them. They then fired 14 shots, hitting him three times _ once in the neck, chest and ankle. He died six days later.

But tests conducted by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department revealed that Landrum’s gun was never fired and there were no fingerprints. Police have not commented on the report.

Sheriff’s investigators then said Landrum’s unregistered gun was traced to a collector, whose identity was not released at the time and whose widow said she didn’t know how the gun became involved in the incident.

But months later, police went further, revealing that the gun collector was former Ontario Police Chief Wayne Simmons, who died 11 years ago. Neither of the officers involved in the shooting were reported to have worked for the Ontario department.

Police Chief Robert Moody, who is retiring this month, did not return a telephone call seeking comment. But at the time, he said the identity of the collector was withheld because he was not involved in the case.

Critics point to two other incidents that also raised questions: The naming of the two officers involved in the shooting as employees of the year and the release of Obee Landrum’s criminal record to the press.

``I think that brought it to a head. When the officers were named employees of the year ... and trying to discredit Obee, it was a slap in the face,″ said Mary Noonan, a resident and one of the city’s harshest critics. ``It was then it probably became clear to people that something was really wrong.″

City spokesman Mike Maxfield acknowledged that officials made a series of missteps, but dismissed the supposed conspiracy.

``Hindsight is always 20/20. Maybe the city didn’t take the best approach,″ he said. ``But these theories about a coverup are outlandish. There is nothing to support them.″

Last week, Held and the council apologized for their actions and asked for forgiveness for their handling of the shooting, and a meeting was held between the family, community leaders and city officials.

``I think we have begun ... a constructive process to address the issues of insensitivity and begin the healing process,″ Held said.

However, the Landrum family has a federal lawsuit for wrongful death and civil rights violations pending against city.

``You can’t begin to heal until you come clean,″ Landrum said. ``We are still waiting for the police and the city to come clean.″

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