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Commissioners question police account

Gregg Reese | 5/16/2012, 5 p.m.

Community activists held a "die-in" at the corner of Fifth and Spring streets to observe the one-year anniversary of the death of Dale Garrett.

The original police report concerning the incident had two plainclothes narcotics detectives stage an impromptu "sting" to purchase Klonopin (an anti-anxiety medication) after they saw Garrett, a transient, appear to be cutting up a narcotic substance at Fifth and Spring streets.

After they approached him, Garrett allegedly then brandished his knife. Officer Arthur Gamboa then drew his handgun and fired two rounds from a distance of three feet into Garrett's back. His partner, Ronald Kitzmiller, was allegedly across the street during this whole episode.

Several witnesses, however, have reported conflicting accounts of what transpired, especially whether the deceased was actually holding a knife during the altercation.

Last month's Board of Police Commissioners' (BOPC) follow-up report also disagreed with police accounts of events. It also found Gamboa's use of force out of policy.

Some 50-odd persons gathered at the protest on Thursday, May 10, to re-enact the shooting and the killings of Black men across the country. Uniformed police monitored the demonstration, as participants lay on the sidewalk in front of the "Down and Out" bar on the ground floor of the Alexandria Hotel, while others drew chalk outlines around their bodies, as is done in homicide scenes that are a staple in movies and television.

After perhaps 30 minutes of chanting, beating drums, and waving placards, the crowd walked a few blocks south to the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) headquarters on Main Street before dispersing.

Inside, LA CAN Executive Director Pete White and a witness to this tragedy, Martell "Askari" Wynder spoke of the shooting.

Wynder maintains he had just exited a bus when he saw the police shoot the victim without identifying themselves as policemen, or giving out a warning.

As he got off the bus, Wynder says he spotted what he believed to be an undercover cop, describing him as "booty-faced, with a crew-cut and wearing a white T-shirt."

Right after the shooting, he witnessed several other passengers on the bus who'd seen the event quickly disperse to avoid becoming involved.

The civilian-run Board of Police Commissioners offers conclusions counter to the recent judgment by the Los Angeles Police Department. It also raises several questions about the incident and the police account, starting with the involved officers' spur-of-the-moment decision to initiate a "buy-bust" drug operation in direct opposition to departmental policy.

Several other eyewitnesses also dispute the officers' testimony. The board's ruling marks a sign of opposition between the body and Chief Charlie Beck, who has received generally positive feedback since assuming the post more than two years ago. Beck has yet to reprimand the involved officers.

Meanwhile, sentiments expressed at the demonstration and opinions voiced by groups like LA CAN and Occupy LA illustrate the continuing disconnect between the area's disenfranchised, and the police sworn to protect them.

"Community eyewitnesses and residents knew from the outset that this was an unjustified shooting," noted White. "Within hours of the report, residents came to LA CAN with a radically different sequence of events," he said.

"The fact that the LAPD story changed numerous time reinforced the fact that a cover-up was in the making," he declared.