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L.A. Police Shooting People Holding Small Items Like Plastic Forks

The first report from the Los Angeles police department about the killing of Jason Maccani on February 3 immediately drew scrutiny: an officer had fatally shot a man who had been “armed with a stick” and threatening people in a building on Skid Row, the department said. LAPD’s update a day later raised new concerns: the 36-year-old Maccani hadn’t been holding any weapon, but rather a “white plastic fork," the Guardian reports. Body-camera footage released two weeks later raised even further questions about LAPD’s shifting narrative. The footage showed Maccani alone walking out of a unit into the building hallway, not threatening anyone, when seven officers approached with weapons drawn. The officer who fired the fatal shot opened fire within 15 seconds of seeing him. The killing of Maccani has sparked national consternation, but the circumstances are not unique.

In recent years, LAPD has repeatedly shot individuals holding ordinary objects that police either mistook for weapons or claimed could be dangerous. That includes two shootings of people carrying cellphones; two cases where men had lighters; and shootings of people holding, alternatively, a bike part, a car part and a wooden board. The shootings, which have cost taxpayers millions in settlements, lay bare continued flaws in how LAPD responds to calls for help, civil rights advocates and policing experts say. Many of these incidents share characteristics. The people shot were often in mental distress. Officers were told 911 call information suggested they were armed. Footage of these incidents consistently shows officers failing to investigate whether the information was accurate, escalating encounters with people experiencing mental health episodes, and rushing to use lethal force without clearly communicating with the individuals or in some cases other officers.


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