LAPD officers ‘out of policy’ in teacher’s death

Wave Staff and Wire Reports

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Police Commission ruled Oct. 24 that two police officers involved in the death of a Black Washington, D.C. schoolteacher in Venice last January acted out of department policy during the incident.

In a closed session, the commission analyzed the actions of officers Joshua Coombs, Stephen Feldman, Christopher Walters, Rasheen Ford and Jaime Fuentes to determine whether their response to the Jan. 3 traffic stop where Keenan Anderson was shocked with Tasers multiple times was within policy.

The five-member commission determined Coombs, Feldman and Walters’ use of force was within department policy, but deemed Ford and Fuentes’ use of force — applying pressure to Anderson’s neck in nine separate instances during their response — not within policy.

The commissioners also deemed Fuentes’ use of his Taser as excessive — saying he used his Taser on Anderson six times in less than a minute.

All five of the officers were found to be in violation of department policy on certain tactics and uniform violations.

Anderson, 31, was taken to a hospital and later died. The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner ruled that he died from the effects of an enlarged heart and cocaine use.

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and Black Lives Matter Grassroots, spoke with Dominique DiPrima on First Things First KBLA 1580 Oct. 25 and called the city Police Commission’s determinations about the officers’ actions a “victory.”

Abdullah said the ruling was important and that her group will continue to rally for justice in Anderson’s name and will continue to demand that LAPD officers police be removed from traffic stops.

Abdullah said she expects the officers involved in the Anderson confrontation to be fired because it’s “consistent with what the police [commission] recommended.”

But she noted that LAPD officers can appeal to a Board of Rights — the disciplinary appeal board that has the ultimate say in whether officers accused of serious misconduct are punished.

The union representing Los Angeles Police Department officers criticized the commission’s ruling decision.

“We strongly disagree with these politically influenced findings,” a statement issued by the Los Angeles Police Protective League’s Board of Directors said. “Each responding officer acted responsibly in dealing with Mr. Anderson who was high on cocaine and ran into traffic after fleeing a car accident he caused.

“The coroner confirmed [Anderson] was not Tased but rather drive-stunned when he refused to follow simple directions while in the middle of a busy street. Mr. Anderson and Mr. Anderson alone was responsible for what occurred,” the statement continued.

The commission’s analysis of the confrontation covered various aspects, including the officers’ de-escalation tactics, the use of the Taser, and the pressure officers applied to Anderson’s neck during efforts to restrain him.

The commissioners did not disclose whether the officers will face discipline. That decision will ultimately fall to Chief Michel Moore, and the Board of Rights if appeals are filed.

Anderson, a cousin of Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, was in the Los Angeles area visiting relatives during the Christmas season when he was involved in a traffic collision at Lincoln and Venice boulevards and allegedly tried to run away.

Anderson was allegedly observed “making erratic statements and appeared agitated.”

According to the autopsy report, Anderson fled on foot and was restrained by multiple officers who used wrist locks and hobbling techniques, and a [Taser].

“External analysis of the discharged [Taser] revealed probes were deployed without skin impact and that trigger activations were discharged to Mr. Anderson’s back,” the report said.

“What’s clear is Keenan Anderson was never anything more than a passive resistor,” Carl Douglas, an attorney for Anderson’s family, told commissioners during the panel’s public comment period Oct. 24.

“What’s clear is that a less than lethal weaponry like a Taser, when used in the wrong hands, is indeed lethal.

“So I turn to you, commissioners, because by your actions in that room, you will have the chance to make a statement, a statement that all of the people of Los Angeles will be listening to,” Douglas added. “A statement that says we will hold our officers responsible when they do wrong.”

Chris Anderson, Keenan’s younger brother, gave short remarks to the commission. Chris said he recognized that Keenan “wasn’t perfect to some.”

“But in my eyes, he was trying his best,” Chris Anderson said. “Our upbringing wasn’t traditional, but that didn’t stop him from being my older brother. He was my number one supporter, my number one inspiration and my competition.”

“As my family mourns his loss, I just hope that we get justice,” he added.

Another member of the public spoke in defense of the police officers and their use of the Taser. But those remarks sparked a response from Black Lives Matter members and others in the audience who were pushing for the officers to be disciplined.

Commission President Erroll Southers ordered members of Black Lives Matter be removed from the room, and the commission went into a roughly 20-minute recess before going behind close door for private deliberations.

Anderson’s death last January sparked considerable controversy.

At the time, Chief Moore said a full investigation would be conducted with a special focus on the repeated use of the Taser.   

Moore and the LAPD later released edited body-camera footage showing the encounter between Anderson and the police officers.

Soon afterward, the Los Angeles Police Protective League issued a statement insisting Anderson escalated the confrontation with his behavior.