A jury Friday acquitted a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy of voluntary manslaughter for the fatal, on-duty shooting of man at a Norwalk gas station nearly six years ago.
The downtown Los Angeles panel spent just under a day before returning its verdict in the trial of Luke Liu, whose attorneys jubilantly hugged him.
“Mr. Liu, you can put this behind you,” Superior Court Judge Mark S. Arnold said after jurors left the courtroom.
Sheriff Alex Villaneuva, who noted that the incident took place prior to his administration, posted about Liu’s case on Twitter Friday evening. He said, “Today a jury acquitted Deputy Luke Liu of manslaughter charges… I respect the criminal justice system and the verdict handed down by the jury.”
Liu, 42, was charged in December 2018 with the Feb. 24, 2016, shooting of Francisco Garcia outside a 7-Eleven at 10962 Alondra Blvd., marking the first prosecution of its type in the county in nearly two decades at the time.
Garcia, 26, had stopped at a gas pump, with the deputy who had been checking vehicle license plates subsequently pulling up behind the white 1993 Acura Integra that had been reported as stolen.
The 26-year-old man tried to drive away at what authorities have said was about 5 mph, was struck by four of the seven shots Liu fired — including two to the lower back and one each to the shoulder area and knee — and crashed into a sign at the station.
After the shooting, Liu pulled the man from the vehicle and performed CPR on him before paramedics arrived. Garcia died at a hospital.
Deputy District Attorney Chris Baker told jurors in his closing argument that Liu “made one tragically bad decision after another and killed a non-violent, unarmed man by chasing him down” and shooting him in the back.
But defense attorney Michael D. Schwartz countered that the prosecution’s narrative “can’t fit the circumstantial evidence” and urged the panel to acquit his client.
The prosecutor called the shooting “unreasonable,” “unnecessary” and “illegal,” telling jurors that Garcia drove away so slowly that the deputy was able to jog along and “fire over and over again” and that Garcia had no place to go but into rush-hour traffic that was blocking the driveway.
The deputy’s lawyer told jurors that his client wasn’t deliberately acting with disregard for human life but was “protecting his own” and was “acting to stop a threat.”
Liu believed the man might have been reaching for a weapon and felt the vehicle making contact with him or striking him before the shots were fired, Schwartz said in his closing argument.
The defense attorney told jurors that the prosecution has the burden of proving the shooting wasn’t done in “lawful self-defense.”
In a statement released shortly after Liu was charged, then-Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said, “We believe the officer’s use of deadly force was unjustified and unreasonable under the circumstances.”
Sheriff’s officials said shortly after the shooting that the deputy was in fear for his life. They said then that the deputy suffered minor injuries when he was struck by the vehicle.
A doctor who examined Liu after he was taken to Long Beach Memorial Medical Center saw no bruising or injuries of any kind, Baker told jurors as the trial got underway Nov. 3.
Liu, a more-than-10-year veteran who was assigned to the Cerritos Sheriff’s Station, was placed on administrative leave in December 2018 and remains on leave, according to Villanueva.
“Now that the criminal case has ended, an administrative investigation will be conducted,” Villanueva wrote on Twitter Friday. “While pending, we are unable to offer any further comment, but what we can say is based on the results of the investigation, proper administrative action will be taken if warranted.”
Los Angeles County agreed in 2018 to pay Garcia’s family $1.75 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.
Prosecutors declined to comment on the jury’s verdict.
Liu’s attorney said simply, “We’re happy the jury had what we feel is the right verdict.”