Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva says he has “grave concerns” about an incident in March in which deputies shot and killed a 34-year-old Hispanic man outside his family home in East Los Angeles.
His department released a highly edited compilation of some of the footage, along with portions of a 911 call during a critical incident briefing on Friday just days after the family of David Ordaz Jr. filed a wrongful death lawsuit against four deputies and Los Angeles County. CNN has requested the entirety of the raw body camera footage and a copy of the coroner’s report.
The lawsuit named sheriff’s Deputies Edwin Navarrete, Remin Piñeda, Jaime Romero and Nathaniel Trujillo as defendants. The sheriff’s office confirmed the four were involved in the shooting in an incident summary.
Villanueva said one of the deputies has been relieved of duty and his peace officer powers have been suspended, pending the outcome of an investigation. But he didn’t specify which one of the four deputies named in the lawsuit had been suspended or why, and the sheriff’s department said they were unable to comment on the matter.
It is unclear from court documents if the officers are represented by lawyers. The deputies’ union, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Professional Association, declined comment, saying they are not representing the deputies involved. Legal counsel for Los Angeles County did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Man said he was suicidal
In an excerpt from the March 14 call to 911 released by the department, a woman tells a dispatcher she needs help because she is sitting in a car with her brother, Ordaz, who she says is suicidal. She asks the dispatcher for guidance on how to help him.
When the dispatcher asked the sister if her brother had any weapons. An unintelligible conversation between the two follows. The sister then confirms her brother has a knife, which she later describes as a “regular kitchen knife.”
Later in the conversation, Ordaz interjects to say he has a “big-ass butcher knife.”
The sister also told the dispatcher Ordaz had a history of drug abuse. She said she believed he was using methamphetamine and had been having suicidal thoughts “for a while.”
“He’s also talked about suicide by cop, so I am afraid for that,” she said.
Deputies responding to the East Los Angeles scene requested less lethal force weapons and a Mental Evaluation Team (MET), according to the sheriff’s department. When they arrived just before 2 p.m. they found Ordaz seated in a car outside his home, according to information included in the edited video shown during Friday’s briefing.
Body camera footage shows deputies ordered Ordaz out of the car. He complied but can be seen holding a knife in his right hand. Deputies repeatedly asked Ordaz to drop the knife, but he failed to comply and told deputies to shoot him, according to information in the edited video.
The department says the deputies detained Ordaz at gunpoint in the street while waiting for backup, a supervisor and the mental evaluation team, according to information contained in the video.
In the video, one deputy is heard saying, “We’re not here to shoot you, dude, we’re here to help you out.”
Another deputy asked Ordaz why he was upset.
“Because you won’t f**king shoot,” Ordaz can be overheard saying, although the profanity is bleeped in the video edited by the department.
The bodycam footage shows Ordaz walk behind his car to the sidewalk in front of the home where several family members are standing outside.
Deputies told the family members to get back because they were in the “crossfire.”
As Ordaz moved closer to the deputies, at least one deputy fired less-lethal stun bag rounds at Ordaz.
In the body-worn camera footage, Ordaz is seen stumbling back from the stun bag rounds and then appears to run forward. Deputies opened fire shooting him multiple times as screams can be heard from his family in the front yard.
Paramedics responded to the scene and transported Ordaz to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Incident remains under investigation
It is unclear if all four deputies fired at Ordaz or how many rounds were fired, and the sheriff’s department has not responded to CNN’s request for more information.
Deputies recovered a 12-inch-long kitchen knife, according to the sheriff’s office incident summary.
The summary said Ordaz “quickly changed direction and moved toward the deputies while still holding the knife,” but the family members who filed the lawsuit say that isn’t what happened.
The lawsuit says Ordaz “turned to flee down the sidewalk,” and did not move toward the deputies. It says the report from the coroner shows that all but two of the bullets that struck Ordaz struck him in the back or on his side and notes that video shows a “helpless” Ordaz “looking up from the pavement without any weapon” as “the killing shot was fired into his chest.”
According to CNN affiliate KCAL/KCBS, Ordaz’s family has released cell phone video of his death that they say supports their claim. CNN has reached out to the family’s attorneys to obtain a copy of the video.
The lawsuit says Ordaz “was not in his right mind and required special attention and handling to avoid injury,” and alleges, “Such special attention and handling were not provided by defendants, and instead defendants used unjustifiable lethal force,” killing Ordaz.
According to the sheriff’s office, homicide investigators are looking into Ordaz’s death and will send their findings to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which will determine if the deputies’ use of force broke any laws.
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