On a Tuesday evening in April 2018, a black man who appeared to be suffering from a mental health crisis ran through the crowded Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Mall in Los Angeles armed with a long kitchen knife. When commanded by police to drop the knife, he did not comply, so officers began shooting at him as customers browsed merchandise in nearby shops.
The man fell to the ground and tried to get up, the knife still gripped in his hand. Both officers fired one more shot each, mortally wounding him.
On a Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission ruled that the final shot fired by each of the two officers violated Los Angeles Police Department policy—a policy which, as explained by the Los Angeles Times, says deadly force should only be used when protecting yourself or others from imminent danger.
Sgt. Ryan Lee and Officer Martin Robles have been identified by the department as the two officers who shot and killed 30-year-old Grechario Mack on April 10, 2018. They fired a total of 14 shots, and the five members of the Police Commission—a civilian oversight board—voted unanimously that they were wrong in firing those last two shots.
According to a report submitted to the commission by Police Chief Michel Moore, Mack appeared to be in an “agitated delirium.” Two LAPD sergeants repeatedly ordered him to drop the knife, but he didn’t. They discussed using a Taser, and when an officer arrived with a beanbag shotgun, they decided to go with the less-lethal weapon.
That is when Mack reportedly ran toward stores with shoppers inside.
Sgt. Lee—who fired four initial shots from his handgun—told LAPD investigators, “I wasn’t going to allow this guy, or the suspect with a knife, to run into one of these stores and hurt anybody that was in those stores or hurt any officers that were coming up and they were approaching.”
In explaining taking his final, fifth shot, Lee said, “I realized that after he went down, he was trying to get back up … And he was also in front of a very large retail store with numerous patrons inside. And so I fired again to stop the threat.”
Robles was armed with a semiautomatic rifle and fired a total of nine shots. He said that after Mack fell to the ground “he’s 10, 15 feet away from me and the people behind me. And it looks like he’s getting ready to charge at me. So I take another shot at him as I’m giving him commands to drop the knife, not to grab it, and because I think he’s going to come up and slash us again.”
Chief Moore, who took the stance that all 14 shots fired by Lee and Robles were within policy, will now have to decide what discipline they should face.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who has a notorious history of not charging police officers in shootings, will decide whether or not Lee and Robles will be charged criminally.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, a union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers, said in a released statement: “The officers involved strived to resolve this situation without using force but the suspect continued his aggressive and threatening behavior. They were forced to take split-second actions and based on witness statements at the time, mall patrons feared for their own safety because of the obvious harm this suspect presented to their lives.”
Black Lives Matter activist Paula Minor told the Times, “For someone who is having a mental episode while holding a knife, the penalty should not be death.”