Outrage, shock and disbelief rocked the city of Inglewood this week as the third officer-involved shooting in three months leaves a city groping for answers.
Inglewood resident James Wicks, a 19-year career postal worker, was the latest victim of police gunfire by Inglewood officers when police answered a domestic dispute call at Wicks’ apartment building at 12:20 a.m. Monday morning.
According to police reports, Officer Brian Ragan and three other officers knocked on the wrong apartment door after receiving a call about a domestic disturbance at 124 Hillcrest in Inglewood. Police alleged that Wicks answered the door with a gun in his hand, causing police to fire. Wicks was rushed to a Westwood hospital but was declared dead about an hour after the shooting, according to Inglewood police Lt. Mike McBride.
Many residents were stunned to learn that Brian Ragan, a five-year member of the department, was also the same officer who shot and killed an unarmed 19-year-old Michael Byoune several months ago near the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and Manchester Avenue. Ragan had been placed on administrative leave in May and had just returned to duty. He was again placed on administrative leave in the wake of Monday’s shooting.
But questions swirled among friends, residents and acquaintances of Wicks during two press conferences held in front of Wicks’ two-story apartment building this week.
One question that has nagged at the conscience of many residents is that bullet holes were found in Wicks’ front door, although Wicks allegedly opened the door to police.
An Inglewood city council meeting held Tuesday night at Inglewood City Hall drew a standing-room-only crowd of over 200 residents that was attended by Minister Tony Muhammad and State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas. An avid motorcycle enthusiast, fellow bikers came in full support of their fallen friend. A host of family, friends and even former Baldwin Hills Elementary School classmates offered testimonials to Wicks’ character.
Expressions of puzzlement and outright disbelief could be seen on the faces of dozens of attendees who questioned why Ragan was allowed to return to the streets when an investigation of his actions and a $25 million lawsuit are still pending.
Trying to maintain her composure, Wicks’ grandmother, Dorothy Nelson, faced the mayor and members of the city council and expressed her anguish. “I’ve never been so distraught in all the days of my life to lose my first grandson…I want justice to be done…I’m hoping that you (the mayor and councilmembers) take a stand to do someting about the violence in this city.”
Wicks’ uncle expressed his disgust at the murder of his nephew. “We need a full investigation in order for the truth to come out…We (the family) hope that you get to know who Wicks was as a man.”
Inglewood Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks, who cut her vacation short in light of the shooting, came under fire during the meeting when she refused to address questions over why Ragan was returned to duty last month. Seabrooks asked that the public withhold judgment until all the facts are in on Wicks’ shooting.
But many questioned Seabrooks’ judgment in returning Ragan to the streets so quickly. Najee Ali, president of Project Islamic H.O.P.E., said that Seabrooks “spit in the face of every resident of Inglewood” by not speaking up sooner. “You did not even issue an e-mail that you were on vacation and were on your way back…you need to be more accountable,” said Ali.
Community activist Morris “Big Money” Griffin also questioned Seabrooks’ decisions. He declared, “Did the psychologist who evaluated Officer Ragan advise you to put him back on the street or back in the seat? If he instructed you to put him in the seat, and you put him in the street…then what you did was malicious.”
Department officials said a psychologist had cleared Ragan to return to duty even though the Byoune family has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the city.
Another audience member felt that the Inglewood Police Department needed closer scrutiny. “Something is terribly wrong,” he said. “The police officers are uneducated and not from our community. They don’t understand us–they don’t know us.”
Other speakers acknowledged that Seabrooks had only held her position as Inglewood Police Chief for a brief period of time, stating that the department’s problems were deep and longstanding.
At a press conference held Tuesday on the lawn of Wicks’ apartment building, friends and neighbors recall that Wicks, the father of two girls ages two and 11, was large in stature but gentle in spirit.
“Kevin was real quiet. He was a regular working class brother. So when they reported on the news that he came to the door with a gun, I was stunned. It didn’t fit his character,” said Sam Fuston, owner of Midnight Records who knew Wicks for six years.
“He was conscientious, positive and a model employee with a great attitude,” recalls former Los Angeles Postmaster James Smith, who became acquainted with Wicks several years ago when Wicks worked as a window clerk at the West Los Angeles post office where Smith was the manager.
Anthony Larsard, who had known Wicks for eight years, said that he received a call from Wicks at 12:17 a.m., minutes before police approached Wicks’ door. “I was asleep, and he didn’t leave me a message. I was the last person that he called before he was killed,”said Lasard.
Larsard recalled, “Kevin was very sharp. He knew a lot about history, politics, and sports. I’m saddened that our police department will attempt to justify what that officer did and that they will disappoint the community once again.”