The Los Angeles police department is seeking witnesses to the shooting of an unarmed man who flagged down a patrol car, an incident which left him in critical condition.
The department appealed for any witnesses or video from the incident last Friday, in which an officer opened fire on a pedestrian with an arm wrapped in a towel who gestured at him and his partner, prompting the latest controversy over an officer-involved shooting in the city.
A passerby recorded graphic video of the aftermath that showed officers turning over the man, who appeared to be unconscious, and handcuffing his hands behind his back as his head bled profusely. The footage was posted on Twitter.
Officers believed the as-yet-unnamed man had a weapon, according to a department spokeswoman.
“He was on the sidewalk and yelling ‘Police, police’. Officers believed he was in distress and a possible victim,” Officer Liliana Preciado told the Guardian.
“As they exited the car they noticed one of his hands was wrapped in a towel. The man raised his wrapped hand in the direction of the officers and the officers told him to drop the gun, then the officer-involved shooting occurred. No gun was found at the scene.”
It is LAPD policy to handcuff suspects even if they are wounded. The encounter happened in Los Feliz, a relatively quiet, prosperous neighbourhood north-east of Hollywood, at about 6.30pm.
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The two officers were not wearing department-issued body cameras and their patrol car dashboard did not have a camera either.
Preciado said it was unclear how much opportunity the man was given to drop the towel.
“LAPD’s force investigative division is investigating the officer-involved shooting, and we haven’t heard findings from them yet,” she said. “They are looking for video and witnesses and anyone who saw what happened.”
The Los Angeles Times on Monday quoted the LAPD commander, Andrew Smith, saying the man had pointed his clasped hands at officers and then moved “aggressively” towards them. He also said there was no injury to the hand covered by the towel, nor a broken down car nearby or any other indication why the man flagged down the patrol car.
A spokeswoman told the Guardian she could not immediately confirm those details. She added that the department would possibly release the man’s name later on Monday, once next-of-kin had been found and informed.
The two officers involved in the shooting were removed from the field pending a 72-hour briefing period, a routine practice after the use of force.
Investigators are considering multiple possibilities, including whether the man was victim of a crime or attempting a so-called “suicide by cop”.
Meanwhile in Azuza, about 30 miles east of Los Feliz, officers from the local police department on Sunday fatally shot a man who reportedly acted erratically and broke into a neighbour’s home. One witness said he yelled at police to shoot him.