April 14, 2021

Police panel: Fatal shooting of man holding bike part was justified

Police panel: Fatal shooting of man holding bike part was justified

The Los Angeles Police Commission ruled Tuesday that an LAPD sergeant acted within department policy when he fatally shot a 31-year-old man who was holding a bicycle part that resembled a handgun in Culver City in January.

The unanimous decision, justifying the sergeant’s actions and clearing him of any punishment, came after family members of Victor Valencia told the commission during a virtual Zoom meeting that Valencia suffered from mental illness, was of little threat and deserved better.

“There’s other ways to go about things,” said Sara Cervantes, Valencia’s cousin. “What gave the reason for this officer to shoot down my cousin like he was nothing?”

Cervantes and another family member said that officers should be better trained to understand people with mental illness and see them as people deserving of compassion.

Commission President Eileen Decker told the family that the commission would hear all the evidence in the case and “adjudicate the case fairly and objectively in accordance with the law.”

The commission then went into closed session, where it agreed with recommendations from LAPD Chief Michel Moore and a separate panel that reviews police shootings that Sgt. Colin Langsdale, who shot Valencia, should receive a tactical debriefing but was otherwise in line with department policy and therefore justified in his actions.

Valencia’s killing has been protested by activists in the city who said Valencia did not have a gun and should not have been shot.

The commission’s ruling comes amid a broader discussion in L.A. about the role police should play in cases involving people suffering from mental illness, with activists and police agreeing that alternative mental health providers would be better equipped to respond to certain calls for help.

However, it’s likely the call that brought Langsdale to the Culver City street where Valencia was would elicit a police response regardless, given its nature.

According to a report Moore provided to the commission Tuesday, Langsdale responded to the area of South Sepulveda and South Venice boulevards about 12:45 p.m. Saturday after police received reports of a man with a gun — with one caller saying he was “waving it around.”

Langsdale did not have his body camera activated when he first arrived at the scene, according to police. Once he activated it, it captured Valencia already on the ground and Langsdale standing behind the open door of his police car, gun drawn.

Langsdale said he believed Valencia had a gun. Other witnesses at the scene said they also believed he had a gun. Surveillance footage from a local gas station released by police showed Valencia holding up the bicycle part and appearing agitated.

Cervantes, Valencia’s cousin, said she suffers from depression, and that L.A. needs more services and programs for people suffering from mental illness, and LAPD officers need far better training on how to interact with people in the throes of a mental health crisis.

“They need to know how to deal with people with our state of minds,” she said. “It’s not our fault that we go through this mental state.”