LAPD Officer Cleared in Homeless Shooting
Jun. 17, 2003
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ An internal Police Department board has cleared an officer who fatally shot a mentally ill, homeless woman wielding a screwdriver, saying he acted properly and will not face disciplinary action.
The finding by the department's Professional Standards Bureau, four years after the shooting sparked protests and multiple investigations, overturns a decision by the city's civilian Police Commission.
Months after the May 21, 1999, shooting, the civilian commission ruled 3-2 that Officer Edward Larrigan violated LAPD policy and should be disciplined. The bureau rejected that recommendation, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.
``Officer Larrigan's response was defensive. It was reactive,'' said Capt. Richard Wemmer, who headed the three-member internal review board. ``It was his last, indeed his only, resort to prevent serious bodily injury or death to himself. And it was compelled in the end by the actions of the victim.''
The woman, Margaret Mitchell, was stopped by Larrigan and partner Officer Kathy Clark to determine whether the shopping cart she was pushing had been stolen. Mitchell ignored them and began walking away, later pulling a foot-long screwdriver from the shopping cart and waving it at the officers.
When Mitchell allegedly lunged at Larrigan, the officer fired once, hitting the 55-year-old in the chest.
The U.S. attorney and the district attorney investigated the shooting but did not file charges; the DA cited compromised and contradictory witness interviews. A civil lawsuit filed by Mitchell's family against the city was settled for $975,000.
The board's ruling, delivered in a May 12 hearing, reopened a long-running debate over the appropriate role of the Police Commission in providing civilian oversight of the LAPD.
The five-member commission determines whether police shootings are justified, but does not have the power to discipline officers. Some argue the city charter should be amended to give the commission such power.
``We, as commissioners, should have the last word on this,'' commission president Rick Caruso told the Los Angeles Times. ``You basically get your legs cut out from under you. I don't agree with this process. I never have.''
Deputy Police Chief Michael Berkow, who heads the police standards bureau, said Chief William J. Bratton has been also frustrated by the disciplinary process.
``He has less power here than in any other police department he's been at,'' Berkow said. ``Discipline is not in the hands of the police chief, who is responsible for managing the department.''
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