By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — Manslaughter charges filed against a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy in the fatal shooting of Ryan Twyman in 2019 are stirring optimism that significant police reform could become more noticeable in minority communities.
“The shock waves around law enforcement have been huge,” said Brian Dunn, an attorney with the Cochran Firm representing the Twyman family. “A lot of people have been calling me saying there will be changes in how police use their weapons systems. The shooting violated their policy on so many levels.”
Former sheriff’s deputy Andrew Lyons was charged March 3 with one felony count of voluntary manslaughter and two felony counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm after he shot and killed Twyman outside an apartment complex in Willowbrook on June 16, 2019. Twyman, 24 at the time, was unarmed and sitting in his car when Lyons fired the fatal shots.
Lyons, 37, will be arraigned on April 7 at the Los Angeles County Criminal Courts Building. He remains free after posting a $150,000 bond.
The fact that Lyons is facing a conviction on three counts, and the possibility of a prison term, is viewed as a sign of progress by community activists advocating for an end to police-involved shootings of unarmed minorities.
“If officers continue to brutalize our community, they will be brought to justice,” said Najee Ali, executive director of Project Islamic Hope in South Los Angeles. “These charges should let the law enforcement community know that we are watching you.”
Ali credited Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón for having the “courage” to investigate the case and file charges against Lyons.
“To Gascón’s credit, he’s keeping his word,” Ali said of the first-term district attorney. “He’s doing exactly what he said he would do, bringing restorative justice to Black and brown people.”
Ali said he and other community leaders are planning to be at Lyons’ arraignment to show support for the Twyman family and to keep pressure on the legal system to continue holding police officers accountable for questionable shootings.
“Ryan was murdered in his car for no reason,” Ali said. “We need to fill that courtroom and send a strong message.”
Police agencies nationwide are feeling more accountability since the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Floyd’s murder, captured on a cell phone video, ignited a worldwide movement for police reform and social justice. Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison after a jury found him guilty last April of second-degree unintentional murder, second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder.
Attorney Dunn believes the surge in accountability will be evident among law enforcement and eventually lead to better training.
“A lot of officers will be thinking if it can happen to this guy (Lyons), it can happen to me,” Dunn said.
Lyons and another sheriff’s deputy responded to an apartment complex in Willowbrook and approached a parked vehicle where Twyman was sitting, with both deputies opening fire after Twyman put the car in reverse, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
The car came to a stop nearby, and Lyons allegedly retrieved his semiautomatic assault rifle and shot into the vehicle after it stopped moving, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Twyman was struck by bullets in the neck and upper body and pronounced dead at the scene. The passenger was not struck by gunfire, but had fragments of glass in his hair and was taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center for evaluation.
The other deputy was suspended for 30 days, the sheriff said in January.
There have been indications that the Sheriff’s Department and L.A. County believe Twyman’s shooting was unjustified. Dunn successfully litigated a $3.9 million settlement for the Twyman family from the county in 2020 to avoid a federal lawsuit. Sheriff Alex Villanueva fired Lyons on Nov. 8, 2021 after conducting an “administrative review” of the shooting for more than two years.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the sheriff’s department expressed sympathy to the Twyman family and said the shooting was “fully investigated.”
“Sheriff Villanueva remains committed to transparently holding our personnel accountable while providing for the safety and security of the communities we serve,” the statement said. “Our condolences to Mr. Twyman’s family for their loss.”
Members of the Twyman were unavailable for comment. Dunn said the family has decided not to speak publicly until after the arraignment on April 7. Dunn, however, said the family was “surprised and overjoyed” with the news that Lyons is facing charges for Ryan’s death.
“A true measure of justice will be a conviction,” Dunn said. “What happened [March 4] is a wonderful first step. We have never seen a criminal prosecution in L.A. for an officer-involved shooting in the ‘hood.’ We want to make sure this is not a one-time occurrence.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
City News Service also contributed to this story.