Prosecutors have determined that Los Angeles police were justified in shooting and wounding a man now awaiting trial for an alleged crime spree across Los Angeles County that included the December 2015 killing of a man in Panorama City, according to a document released Thursday.
Prosecutors concluded the force used by Los Angeles Police Department detectives Marcelo Raffi and Peter Miranda against Artyom Gasparyan after a wrong-way crash Jan. 4, 2016, on the Golden State (5) Freeway was “reasonable under the circumstances in order to defend their lives and the lives of others, and to capture a dangerous, fleeing felon.”
In the 18-page document, prosecutors noted that “Gasparyan drove recklessly by entering the freeway in the wrong direction of traffic,” and crashed into a vehicle containing a woman and her three children and then retrieved a gun from his waistband as he fled police.
The two detectives had been advised by another officer that Gasparyan was armed with a gun, and Gasparyan was still holding the gun in his right hand when he fell to the ground after being shot, according to the report.
Then-LAPD Chief Charlie Beck — who called Gasparyan “a very, very dangerous individual” who had allegedly been involved in a string of crimes stretching from Panorama City to Long Beach — said police had been actively searching for Gasparyan in connection with the alleged crime spree when officers spotted him near an auto repair shop in the Sunland area. The subsequent chase ended with the officer-involved shooting.
In a memorandum to Los Angeles police, prosecutors wrote, “Gasparyan’s recent of acts of violence, coupled with his use of his vehicle as a weapon in an attempt to assault the public and escape, and by arming himself with a gun while fleeing from the detectives and officers, made him a substantial and immediate threat of serious physical injury or death to not only the detectives and officers who stood in his way, but also the public if he had managed to escape.”
Gasparyan subsequently told investigators that he didn’t know who was pursuing him and that he tried to throw the gun when he saw badges flashing and realized police were chasing him, according to the document.
Gasparyan, now 35, is awaiting trial on 35 counts, including a murder charge for the Dec. 30, 2015, slaying of Adan Correa, a 37-year-old father of two, who lost control of his vehicle after being shot in Panorama City.
The motive for the killing has not been determined, authorities have said.
The District Attorney’s Office also declined to file charges in connection with the officer-involved shootings of:
— Jose Luis Chavez, who was allegedly shot and wounded May 20, 2016, in a gunbattle with West Covina Police Officer Kenny Benitez, who was also injured.
“The physical evidence, statements of ear-witnesses, and portions of Chavez’ own admissions corroborate Benitez’ account that Chavez resisted his commands and that Chavez initiated the use of deadly force, which caused Benitez to return fire in self-defense. Therefore, Benitez’ use of deadly force was lawful,” prosecutors concluded.
Chavez, an ex-con, was located at a home in La Puente six days later, and it appeared that he had been treating two gunshot wounds, according to the document. The 49-year-old man is awaiting trial on attempted murder and other charges.
— Omar Gonzales, 36, of Los Angeles, shot to death in Boyle Heights by LAPD Officer Eden Medina on July 28, 2016, while struggling with officers and producing a .25-caliber semi-automatic handgun following a vehicle chase.
“Given the rapidly evolving, life-threatening situation that confronted Officer Medina, we conclude that he acted lawfully in self-defense and defense of another,” prosecutors wrote.
Medina was also absolved of culpability in a separate fatal shooting two weeks later, when 14-year-old Jesse James Romero was killed around 5:50 p.m. Aug. 9, 2016 near Breed Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue. Officers said they believed he fired a shot at them from around a corner, although his parents claim in a federal lawsuit filed last month that the teen threw the gun over a fence and it discharged.
The Los Angeles Police Commission also ruled that officers were justified in fatally shooting Romero.
— Gerardo Vasquez, 52, an attempted murder suspect fatally shot Feb. 6, 2017, in Santa Monica, by California Highway Patrol officers following a report of a pedestrian on the I-10 Freeway in West Los Angeles.
Vasquez ignored multiple commands to drop a knife and fled onto surface streets, plang Officers Alfredo Lopez, Brandon Rains and Aaron Lowery “in imminent and reasonable fear for their lives, and the lives of their fellow officers, when he charged at the officers armed with a knife after refusing multiple orders to drop the weapon,” according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors found that the officers “responded with reasonable deadly force during the first volley of gunfire,” and that there was insufficient evidence to prove that they didn’t act in lawful self-defense and defense of others during two subsequent volleys of gunfire as Vasquez was on the ground already wounded.