A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a voluntary manslaughter charge stemming from the fatal on-duty shooting of a man at a Norwalk gas station — the first prosecution of its type in the county in nearly two decades.
Deputy Luke Liu, 40, faces up to 21 years in prison if convicted of the voluntary manslaughter charge, which includes a special allegation of personal use of a handgun. The charge stems from the Feb. 24, 2016, shooting of 26-year-old Francisco Garcia at a gas station in the 10900 block of Alondra Boulevard.
Liu appeared in court with his attorney in downtown Los Angeles and entered his not-guilty plea. He remained out of custody, although his bail was set at $1.1 million. He is due back in court Jan. 31.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who has come under fire from some Southland civil-rights leaders for failing to prosecute police officers and sheriff’s deputies for on-duty shootings, issued a statement saying Liu’s use of force “was unjustified and unreasonable under the circumstances.”
According to prosecutors, Liu was on patrol when he spotted a potentially stolen vehicle at the gas station and pulled up behind it. Liu walked to the driver’s side door, then walked to the rear of the car, and when he returned to the driver’s side door, Garcia began to drive away at about 5 mph, prosecutors said.
Liu allegedly ran alongside the car and fired seven shots. Garcia was hit by four of the rounds and died at a hospital.
Sheriff’s officials at the time said the deputy was in fear for his life when the suspect turned on the car and appeared to reach for something behind the car’s passenger seat. They said the deputy was struck by the vehicle, suffering minor injuries, and said the deputy performed CPR on the suspect before paramedics arrived.
No weapons were found in the vehicle, sheriff’s officials said.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, the shooting occurred within 20 seconds of Liu first approaching Garcia. The shooting was also seen by several witnesses and was partly captured on surveillance video.
“There is an inherent danger for law enforcement officers every time they put on the uniform,” Lacey said. “We applaud their dedication and bravery to make split-second decisions in potentially life-threatening situations. But we also must hold them accountable when their conduct is unlawful.”
Liu, a more than 10-year veteran assigned to the sheriff’s Cerritos station, was placed on administrative leave Monday, according to the sheriff’s department.
“Sheriff’s homicide investigators have been working with the Justice System Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and initially presented the case to them on Jan. 31, 2017,” according to the department. “The LASD has complete confidence in the criminal justice system and the public we serve. The facts will be presented, and the ultimate outcome of the case will be determined in a court of law.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, the last Los Angeles County law enforcement officer to be prosecuted for an on-duty shooting was LAPD Officer Ronald Orosco. He was accused of shooting an unarmed motorist in the back during a September 2000 dispute over a traffic citation. The motorist survived. Orosco pleaded no contest to a felony count of shooting into an occupied vehicle and was sentenced to five years in prison, The Times reported.