By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California
It happened in the blink of an eye. They both tumbled out of the apartment past the inward opening door and to the threshold. The man in front had a bloody torso and gouts of blood spewing into the hallway. Behind him, no, on top of him, was the guy they were told they sought out, a white male knife-wielding attacker in a black T-shirt.
Fearing that he was continuing his attack, unable to get a clear sight because of the threshold and the victim’s body, three deputies fired four shots, three of which hit John Winkler and one of which hit the already wounded victim.
The tragedy that was John Winkler’s death at the hands of Sheriff deputies ostensibly there to serve and protect him has brought loud protests from some residents of West Hollywood. Some civic activists are demanding answers to questions, demanding changes to Sheriff’s policy.
WeHo News talked at length with the investigating Detective. Lt. Dave Coleman, LASD, about the circumstances around the shooting. He provided hitherto unheard or published details that flesh out the picture for those not present – and wondering how an innocent victim can be shot down by law enforcement.
You have likely read the back story, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies arrived en masse to a “man with a knife” call at 939 Palm Ave. on April 7.
Allegedly, Alexander McDonald, age 27, a resident at 939 Palm Ave., had returned to the apartment complex, but not his residence that night. He visited two women who live down the hall from him. Threatening them; the women saying he was acting crazy and unlike they had ever seen him. He soon took a large knife and then disappeared, apparently to wander the apartment complex, said Lt. Coleman. The women called the West Hollywood Sheriff’s station.
According to their description of Mr. McDonald, he was wearing a black T-shirt and lived with one other man in the apartment down the hall. Acting on the information that only two males resided in the apartment and that the suspect was male, white, thin build and wearing a black shirt, “The field sergeant quickly assembled an entry team, along with deputies armed with less lethal weapon,” said Lt. Coleman.
That team consisted of 12 deputies, three carrying guns and the rest with less than lethal weapons meant for hand-to-hand confrontations. The three deputies with firearms stood across the hall from the doorway to avoid firing into other deputies. The other deputies ringed the corridor, but were standing back a foot or two.
“The team staged at the front door of the apartment and announced themselves, but obtained no response.”
The burst open the door.
“As deputies continued attempts to contact the people in the apartment, the apartment door suddenly opened and a male victim came rushing out,” said Lt. Coleman. Because the door opened inward, as do all doors, it took a moment for the first victim to get to the threshold.
In the meanwhile, said Lt. Coleman, Mr. Winkler, fitting the description of the assailant and from appearances the second of two residents of the apartment came forward in what looked like a tackling stance directly on top of the first victim, whose bloody torso was the result of an arterial neck wound.
It looked as though the second guy coming out the door was attacking the first guy, trying to finish him off.
The deputies fired.
According to Lt. Coleman, the deputies involved demonstrated great restraint. They carry semi-automatic pistols, but three deputies fired only four times. One deputy shot twice and the other two once.
According to Lt. Coleman,each of the three deputies in the initial debrief said the same thing – they thought the first guy out was in danger of taking another, fatal knife wound. “It shows their training coming through,” said Lt. Coleman.
Mr. Winkler took three rounds and died later in the hospital. The first man out the door is recovering from his wounds.
“The aftermath, the capture and arrest of Alexander McDonald for the knife attack on three friends, went without incident. Mr. McDonald was charged with one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of torture in the incident. He is being held in lieu of $4 million bail.
In a white paper produced for the LA Sheriff’s Department, Audrey L. Honig, Ph.D., and Steven E. Sultan, Ph.D. wrote, “The reactions and symptoms that may accompany exposure to officer-involved shootings and other life-threatening confrontations can be devastating to the mental health and career of a peace officer, as well as costly to the organization.
As a practical matter,” they write, “mandatory interventions after a shooting or other life-threatening event, combined with realistic training to build an officers decision-making skills under stress and positively exploit the adaptive stress reaction, remain the most effective and efficient approach to reducing the negative impact of the event on the officer and the agency.”
It remains unclear whether or not the deputies involved have undergone or are undergoing “mandatory intervention,” as the personnel files for deputies are closed to public purview, but the West Hollywood incident differs from most.
According to Capt. Gary Honings of the West Hollywood Station, the deputies are back in action, but concerned for the family and friends of John Winkler.
“Actually, the deputies in this situation are doing okay,” said Capt. Honings. “All three are considered veterans and have 8, 12 and 16 years on the Department. They do however, feel concerned for the family and friends of the victim. After all, they are human beings.”
That feeling of concern is mutual, according to the Winkers. In a statement released on behalf of Mr. Winkler’s family through a Seattle public relations firm, relatives said they are struggling to come to grips with how he died. They also expressed sympathy for the deputies.
The statement also notes that the family has hired an attorney.
“Moving forward, we seek to understand the reasons why the sheriff’s deputies shot and killed John,” the statement read in part. “We know that shooting and killing an innocent man must be a horrible burden for those deputies, and they are in our prayers as well, as they attempt to cope with the circumstances of his death.”
Understanding that the trauma of shooting someone in the line of duty, especially if they turn out to be innocent or if the shooting is in error, thoughts and prayers have gone out to the deputies involved.
David Klinger, writing for the U.S. Department of Justice, said, “Prior research has found that many officers involved in shootings suffer from “post-shooting trauma”—a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that may include guilt, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.
Except that he found that officers seem more resilient than previously thought. One study has found that most suffer few long-term negative emotional or physical effects after shooting a suspect.
“On the other hand,” says Mr. Klinger, “the evidence that officers often do just fine in the short term and only infrequently experience notable long-term problems should not be taken as evidence that police shootings are no big deal. In the first place, the research clearly indicates that most shootings do lead to notable disruption immediately afterward. In the second place, the research also clearly indicates that shootings can and do lead to substantial long-term tumult for some officers.
Dr. Richard Weinblatt, Dean of the School of Public and Social Services and the School of Education at the 37,000 student respected Ivy Tech Community College based in Indianapolis, Indiana, told WeHo News he had been following the case closely from afar. He concurred with Lt. Coleman’s thoughts. “Because there are three deputies standing side by side and all firing at the same time because of a threat they perceive to be imminent to the lead victim makes me feel a lot better about the shooting,” he said.
“The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is a highly trained force, just as most major city police forces are,” said Mr. Weinblatt. “In hundreds of ride-alongs with officers around the world, Los Angeles’s Police force and Sheriff’s department stood out as premier law enforcement units. I also know they have spent a lot of time and attention on the mental health of a cop involved in an officer-involved shooting.”
He also suggested that those calling for a zero tolerance non-lethal approach to policing should think again. “Do you recall the bazaar scene from the Indiana Jones film, where he’s upset a guy with this huge, curvaceous sword that he swings around in great ceremonial arcs? And Indie pulls his gun and shoots the man dead?
The split second nature of the decision is vital to understanding the killing, said Mr. Weinblatt, suggesting that the op-ed published here on WeHo News shortly after the candlelight vigil /Sheriff protest captured the scenario exactly.
See it here
The Sheriff’s Department cannot say for another four-five weeks just why Mr. McDonald freaked out because a toxicology test takes six to eight weeks. However, Lt. Coleman suspects “bath salts,” a designer drug introduced into the area first in 2012.
The drug has several street names in addition to “bath salts,” including White Lightening, White Rush, and Hurricane Charlie, among other names.
It is often sold in tobacco or smoke shops, on the Internet and even in convenience stores, packaged in small plastic bags, canisters, or jars, and may be labeled as “plant food” or “pond water cleaner.”
Federal authorities say the drug should not be consumed, used as plant food, or used to clean pond water.
Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, Director of Public Health and Health Officer, told WeHo News, “Bath salts are particularly dangerous in that not much is known about what goes into the drug and even less is known about what people are capable of while on this drug.”
Symptoms of “bath salts” abuse can include lack of appetite, decreased need for sleep, self-mutilation, and severe paranoia.
In related news, Los Angeles County officials agreed in mid-March on a process that will allow members of the County Board of Supervisors to see reports from internal Sheriff’s Department investigations of deputy-involved shootings and other use-of-force cases.
County Supervisors Gloria Molina blasted the county’s lawyers earlier this month for denying her access to the reports. She was seeking information on a fatal September deputy-involved shooting in East Los Angeles. A deputy involved in that incident, Anthony Forlano, had been involved in six prior shootings.