The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department killed a man earlier this week, mistaking him for an armed assailant. John Winkler, 30, was actually a victim of the assailant.
Winkler worked as a production assistant on Tosh.0, according to the Los Angeles Times. The sheriff's department said in a statement that Winkler and another man were visiting a friend's apartment. The friend's roommate, Alexander McDonald, allegedly took the three hostage at knifepoint. Deputies were called to investigate. The door of the apartment opened and Winkler and another man, who was covered in blood, ran out. Because Winkler was "lunging at the back of the fleeing victim" and "was similar to the description of the suspect and was wearing a black shirt," three deputies fired at him. He was not armed.
"It was a very quick exit from the residence," interim sheriff John Scott told the Los Angeles Times. "The appearance was he was assaulting the individual in the front."
Because of this appearance, Winkler was hit once. The other man, who has not been named, was also hit, even though deputies never mistook him for an assailant.
The latest statement conflicts with the sheriff's department's earlier statement about the incident, which claimed that the other man was not hit. The LASD has not said why it took so long to figure out that its deputies shot two people instead of one. Another deputy told CBS LA that Winkler and the other man "aggressed the deputies."
After shooting the two innocent men, deputies entered the apartment, found the actual suspect and arrested him. All four men involved ended up in the hospital.
When McDonald was released, he was charged with one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of torture. So far, the deputy who actually killed Winkler has not been identified nor charged.
If past history is any indication, the deputy will be just fine. As long as law enforcement officers believe they are being threatened -- even if that threat has no basis in reality -- using deadly force is often permitted.
Earlier this year, eight LAPD officers who shot 103 bullets at two Hispanic women they mistook for one black man, hitting one of the women twice, were simply given "extra training" as punishment. A sheriff's deputy in South Carolina who shot a 70-year-old man because he mistook the man's cane for a rifle was told his actions were "an appropriate response to what he reasonably believed to be an imminent threat to his life." And in Albuquerque, police officers shot and killed a mentally ill homeless man as he turned away from them, which police chief Gordon Eden said was "justified."
In Fullerton, California, two officers involved in the beating death of an unarmed mentally ill homeless man were actually fired, but found innocent in a criminal trial. One of those officers still collects a disability pension of $40,000 from his time as an LAPD officer.
Winkler just moved to Los Angeles six months ago.
"It's just a really sad story," a friend of Winkler's told the Los Angeles Times.
"He basically went to help some neighbors and ends up getting shot."
Update, Friday 4:13 p.m.: According to the AP, all deputies involved in the shooting are "expected to return to full duty next week."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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