By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California
A candlelight vigil held last night in front of 939 Palm Ave., the apartment building in which Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies mistakenly shot and killed John Winkler while wounding another victim last week, and where Kurtland Ma lost his life in a gruesome mutilation murder the week before at the hands of an allegedly jealous boyfriend, morphed into an expression of anger at LASD and a protest in front of WeHo Sheriff’s Station.
Roughly 50 people turned out, ostensibly to mourn the deaths of two young men whose early and violent deaths have struck at the city’s heart.
Dr. Kurtland Ma, 34, was allegedly stabbed to death in his apartment at 939 Palm on March 29 by his boyfriend, Andre Davids, who suspected Dr. Ma of cheating on him. During the killing, Mr. Davids apparently cut off Dr. Ma’s sexual organs and put them into Dr. Ma’s mouth,
Just eight days later, tragedy again struck the building when deputies reported to a man with knife call. Upon arrival, two men came clamoring out of the apartment where they had been, it turns out after an investigation, held hostage.
The first man out the door, who bled profusely (squirting out, said one deputy), was overtaken by a second man fitting exactly the description given of the suspect. As he stumbled over the leading man, detectives say that three deputies fired six bullets, with all striking home.
Five of those bullets found John Winkler, age 24, a newly-arrived Wehoan who was trying to make it in the entertainment industry and had just started a job with Tosh.0. The other bullet hit the first man out that door. Mr. Winkler died at the hospital, the other victim suffered non-life threatening wounds from the bullet and the knife wounds.
The attacker, Alexander McDonald, age 27, was arrested without incident and is being held on $4.1 million bail.
The event, organized by Eric Schmidt and Larry Block, owner of Block Party and council candidate for 2015, saw several speakers talk, beginning with Mr. Block, who tried to set a commemorative, solemn tone for the occasion. “This is what West Hollywood is all about. Community. Neighbors coming together.
Even so, Kurtland Ma and his memory was quickly pushed aside by activists from outside the community.
The anger that makes up one of the five stages of grief appeared and began flowing over, with Hollywood resident Gregory Mahan fueling the rage by using the deaths to hammer away at the Sheriff’s Department’s training program, for him a decades long mission.
Before the gathering got under way, he told WeHo News, “I live in Hollywood now, but I used to live in West Hollywood,” said Mr. Mahan. “I left this city because it was too dangerous.”
An attorney, he accused the department of gross negligence and a central training insufficiency that he claims sets the tone for the deputy’s career. “After graduation from the academy, they go right into a custodial position at the jails, dealing with real criminal all day every day.”
He says that “there is a culture that says that a citizen is considered a criminal until after he’s shot to death or until he proves himself to be a non-criminal before getting shot. It’s shoot first, ask questions later.
“You do not shoot unarmed people. You do not shoot unarmed perpetrators. You do not have license with the badge to simply not follow the law,” he said as part of his comments to the small crowd.
The last time anyone was shot dead by a deputy in West Hollywood was almost nine years ago, in June of 2005, Lt. Dave Coleman told WeHo News; it was a domestic violence call that went awry and homicide investigators determined to be a “suicide by cop.”
By comparison, Albuquerque, New Mexico police officers have racked up 23 fatal shootings in the last three years, or nearly 1.3 per year, causing an FBI probe into their activities.
According to legal experts, police officers may use deadly force in specific circumstances when they are trying to enforce the law. Furthermore, deadly force should be looked at as an option that is used when it is believed that no other action will succeed.
David E. Hatch, who authored the 2003 “Officer-Involved Shootings and Use of Force: Practical Investigative Techniques,” said, “The Model Penal Code, although not adopted in all states, restricts police action regarding deadly force.
“According to the code, officers should not use deadly force unless the action will not endanger innocent bystanders, the suspect used deadly force in committing the crime, or the officers believe a delay in arrest may result in injury or death to other people.
That latter point speaks directly to the situation at hand, says Lt. Coleman. The three deputies, all of whom were seasoned veterans who had to decide in milliseconds whether or not Mr. Winkler (who matched the description of the suspect) had burst through the door to overtake the first man out was trying to do further injury to him.
Not all crimes qualify for constitutional shooting of a suspect or victim by a law enforcement officer. Michael McGuinness wrote in, “Shootings by Police Officers Are Analyzed Under Standards Based on Objective Reasonableness,” for the New York Bar Association Journal, “ in 2000, “When police officers are arresting someone for a felony, the courts have given them a little more leeway.
“The police may use all the force that is necessary to overcome resistance, even if that means killing the person they are trying to arrest,” he said. “However, if it is proved that an officer used more force than was necessary, the officer can be held criminally and civilly liable.”
In Tennessee v. Garner, the Supreme Court ruled that it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment for police officers to use deadly force to stop fleeing felony suspects who are nonviolent and unarmed.
However, the decision, also said in part, “We conclude that such force may not be used unless it is necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”
The small body of protesters sang two songs and then walked silently and single file down the street to Santa Monica Boulevard to hold another rally condemning the Sheriff’s Department in front of the station, promising to take more action against the department.