A Los Angeles police officer used unreasonable force when he shot and killed a suspect running from him while armed with two handguns in South Los Angeles in 2016, an attorney for the man’s mother told a jury Thursday, but a deputy city attorney countered that the lawman feared for his safety and had the right to defend himself.
The attorneys made their pitches to a Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing trial of Prescious Sasser’s negligence lawsuit stemming from the death of her son, 18-year-old Kenney Watkins. The suit filed in December 2016 maintains that instead of shooting Watkins, the defendant, Officer Evan Urias, should have called for help sooner than he did and requested a perimeter of backup officers.
Sasser’s lawyer, Michael Curls, said Watkins died at the scene from a gunshot wound to the back. He acknowledged that Watkins was carrying two weapons while fleeing from Urias, who was riding a motorcycle, but maintained that the officer’s life was never in danger.
“All we have Kenney Watkins doing at the time is running away,” Curls said. “That completely blows up their case.”
A police officer is not legally allowed to shoot a fleeing suspect, he said.
“That is the law,” Curls said.
Urias testified that he withheld fire when he saw a firearm in Watkins’ left hand, but used deadly force after he saw the second weapon in the suspect’s right hand. He said he fired his weapon from the motorcycle he was riding about 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 16, 2016, while Watkins was running down a sidewalk on Century Boulevard a short distance from Figueroa Street.
“He turned and looked at me,” Urias said. “I saw the barrel first, turning toward me.”
But Curls told jurors that a witness said Watkins looked over his shoulder, but did not make a threatening move toward Urias.
Deputy City Attorney Geoffrey Plowden disagreed, saying the officer had a legitimate fear of danger.
“He has the right to do his job, not get himself shot and killed and make his wife and children fatherless,” Plowden said.
Urias did not use excessive force at any time, he said.
“He stopped firing when the threat stopped,” Plowden said.
Urias called for backup, but had no obligation to do stop pursuing Watkins before help arrived, according to Plowden.
“First responders run to danger,” Plowden said. “This man did it and he got sued for it.”
Urias testified that prior to the confrontation, he was on his motorcycle when he tried to stop a car in the 400 block of West Century Boulevard for having illegally tinted windows and no front license plate. Urias said he followed the female driver as she turned down side streets, drove along Grand Avenue and returned to near Century and Figueroa before Watkins, a passenger in the car, got out and started running.
Urias said he was concerned that Watkins, wearing a hood on a hot day and holding his hands inside his waistband, was trying to hide his identity and any weapons he may have been carrying as he sprinted across a service station and down the street.
Urias said that on the day of the shooting, he and a companion on another motorcycle were part of a team working to discourage robberies, including some at bus stops, by having a high visibility in the area. He said he has been with the LAPD for 11 1/2 years.