The Torrance City Council Chambers is expected to once again become the center of ongoing tensions between police and Black Lives Matter protesters Tuesday, one year after Torrance police officers fatally shot Christopher DeAndre Mitchell, 23, who police found in a car that had been reported stolen.
Police, officials said, believed Mitchell, stopped in a supermarket parking lot, was armed.
What followed was a yearlong series of protests at Torrance City Council meetings marked by shouting and other disruptions, the mayor clearing the Council Chambers and even police in riot gear lining the room, the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit, the release of body camera footage and, finally, the exoneration of the police officers.
Mitchell’s family and friends and the attorney who filed the wrongful death lawsuit were set to hold a candlelight vigil last night at the Ralph’s supermarket in Old Torrance, where Mitchell was shot. And city officials are bracing for a bigger-than-usual turnout of Black Lives Matter protesters at Tuesday’s meeting, according to the Breeze.
It is at such council meetings where one of the largest consequences of this ongoing turmoil can often be seen. Torrance has implemented new security measures at City Hall that have dramatically changed the tenor of these public meetings, according to regular attendees.
“It’s certainly become less resident-friendly,” Councilman Mike Griffiths said. “The additional security measures we’ve taken have made it feel like there is more distance between the council and the public.”
Shortly before 8 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2018, a man flagged down two Torrance Police Department officers on 220th Street, near Western Avenue, and told them that someone had stolen his black 2000 Honda Civic, according to the nine-page analysis the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office released Oct. 9. The officers broadcast the information they received. A minute after that, surveillance footage captured the Honda pull into the Ralph’s parking lot, on West Carson Street, the report said.
The driver — later identified as Mitchell, who was black — eventually pulled into a stall and turned off the headlights. At 7:54 p.m., officers Anthony Chavez and and Matthew Concannon, who had been in the area and heard the broadcast from their colleagues, pulled into the Ralph’s parking lot, thinking, according to the report, that the Honda’s driver might have tried to hide there.
They found the Honda and blocked its exit with their patrol vehicle. Chavez and Concannon got out of their vehicle, approached the Honda and saw Mitchell in the driver’s seat, the report said. The officers yelled “police” and told Mitchell to put his hands on the steering wheel, which – after a moment’s hesitation — he did. Concannon opened the door, the report added. Mitchell, according to the report, dropped his hands into his lap and Concannon — following Mitchell’s movement — saw what he thought was a firearm, the report said.
Raw body camera footage released in April after months of protests, however, did not clearly show a weapon. Either way, Concannon drew his gun and told Mitchell not to move. Mitchell, who police said later they believed was a gang member, returned his hands to the wheel, apologized twice and then dropped his hands again.
Concannon, the report said, put his flashlight away and gripped his gun with both hands. But, according to body camera footage, it’s not clear whether Mitchell dropped his hands a second time because Concannon blocked the view of his body-worn camera as he gripped the gun. The district attorney’s report acknowledged this, too.
“Mitchell is not visible on the body-worn footage during the three seconds preceding the first shot,” the report said, noting Concannon ordered Mitchell to get out of the car. “About one second after repeating that command, the first shot was fired.” Three shots total were fired, one by Concannon and two by Chavez, according to the report.
Concannon and Chavez waited for backup and, after it was clear there was no further threat, officers attempted life-saving measures on Mitchell. But he died from his injuries.
Over the next several months, protesters gathered at Torrance council meetings, demanding answers, asking for the body-cam footage and the release of the officers’ names and their firing, and shouting down council members who said they needed to wait for the investigation to wrap up.
Subsequently, the council meetings became increasingly tense. In April, Mayor Patrick Furey twice cleared the Council Chambers. In May, three demonstrators were led away in handcuffs. The protests continued through much of this year.
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