A Los Angeles Police Department SWAT officer saying “happy hunting” before two other officers fatally shot a barricaded suspect earlier this month was determined to be an isolated incident after an internal review of SWAT team operations over the last 10 years, Deputy Chief David Kowalski said Tuesday at a police commission meeting.
Kowalski, the commanding officer of the Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau, added that he did not identify any patterns in the SWAT Team based on the incident and felt that the department took swift and appropriate action to discipline the officer for the May 3 incident. The officer was immediately removed from the field after the remark was discovered.
The incident is separately being investigated by the department’s Internal Affairs unit, which will review the officer’s background within the SWAT unit, prior uses of force and performance.
The SWAT Team was responding to an armed suspect barricaded in an apartment building in the 100 block of West Fifth Street in downtown Los Angeles on May 3.
Two SWAT officers opened fire, killing the suspect, 54-year-old Leron James. Police said James fired a round at officers and they returned fire.
An LAPD Metropolitan Division commanding officer was reviewing body-worn camera footage from the incident when he discovered an officer, who did not fire at James, telling other officers “happy hunting” before the shots rang out.
The report discussed at Tuesday’s police commission meeting found that over the last 10 years, 92% of the 1,350 SWAT deployments were resolved without use of force. That was an improvement from 83% of the 3,371 deployments between 1972 and 2005 ending with the suspects arrested without incident.
Law enforcement officials pointed to the positive trend as an indication that the officer’s comment was not the norm in how the SWAT unit behaves. Deputy Chief Al Labrada, the commanding officer for operations in the Central Bureau, said the report showed no patterns of behavior in which officers were continuously engaging in deadly force.
The remark was “troubling” to Police Chief Michel Moore because of the “cavalier manner in which he expressed it.” Moore said the entire platoon was “stood down” in a discussion about how damaging the comment was to the reputation and confidence of the SWAT unit.
“It was also to monitor and evaluate and gauge people’s reception,” Moore said. “And their willingness not only to acknowledge it but to take it to heart and ensure that their actions remain professional, both on the camera and off the camera.”
Moore said SWAT officers are placed in the most stressful situations, which means they are expected to be guided by the principle of preserving life.
“It’s not what weapon to use,” Moore said. “It’s what mechanism to use in which to safely resolve the situation.”