Police account of Watts shooting held in question
The official account of last week’s police shooting of 18-year-old James Davis III was challenged yesterday at a news conference held by the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police.
On Oct. 7, Davis was shot in the back by LAPD officer Manuel Castaneda. According to police, Castaneda and his partner encountered Davis and two other men near 114th and Grape in the Imperial Courts public housing project in Watts. Davis raised the suspicion of officers when he began to walk away from their approaching patrol car.
According to the LAPD, the officers left their patrol car to investigate when Davis grabbed a nearby woman and shoved her toward them in an effort to slow their pursuit while he ran away. Police say that while running, Davis pulled out a handgun and pointed it at the officers, prompting Castaneda to shoot. A handgun was recovered from the scene.
However, according to the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police, witnesses say Davis had dropped his weapon and his hands were over his head when he was shot.
Police claim Davis was a gang member, but when asked by reporters if Davis was involved in such criminal activity, Davis’ mother, Mashia Lewis, said he was not.
“He was born and raised here,” she said. “All kids come in contact with the police, but that still don’t give anybody the right to take a life.”
Lewis describes her son, who was visiting family at the time of the shooting, as outgoing, happy and loved in the community. She said she is not angry with the police over the shooting or for not contacting her after her son’s death, but is simply demanding a thorough investigation.
“My son was slain,” she said to reporters. “I just want the truth. That’s all I’m looking for, nothing else.”
However, Lewis admitted to reporters that she is angry over the fact that police refused any aid to Davis after the shooting.
“They should have let somebody help him and they didn’t,” she said. “That’s what I’m mad about.”
According to Cynthia Turner, she offered to give first-aid to Davis, but police would not let her. Turner, who was visiting her mother at the time of the shooting, has been a registered nurse since 1996.
“I kneeled down to try and perform CPR and they pushed me back,” she said. “I told them who I was, that I was a nurse, that I was trained in the emergency room, [that] I was trained in trauma and they still told me to get back.”
When Turner heard gunshots from across the street, she ran toward the source of the sound to find Davis handcuffed, lying on the ground shot in the back.
“They were truly, truly wrong for denying him the right to medical attention,” she said. “I don’t know if it is because they thought I wasn’t highly trained to save someone’s life because I’m in the projects, but I just think that was totally wrong.”
One witness to the shooting, who would not reveal his name, told reporters that Davis was not a member of a gang, that often people in the community carry weapons to protect themselves.
“They classify everybody as a gang member,” said the 27-year-old witness referring to the police. “He had the gun on him to protect himself.”
His version of events differed greatly from the police account. He said Davis never turned on police and that police shot him after they picked up the handgun off the ground.
The president of the police union, Paul Weber, said the incident “could have been easily avoided.”
“Mr. Davis should not have been carrying a fully loaded semiautomatic pistol,” said Weber, according to the Los Angeles Times. “He should not have run. He should not have drawn and pointed the pistol. Had he refrained from any of these things Mr. Davis would be alive today.”
The job of investigating the shooting will be done by the LAPD’s Force Investigation Division.
Davis’ death comes on the heels of the LAPD fatally shooting Westlake resident Manuel Jaminez Xum. Police said Jaminez was armed with a knife when they shot him, but one witness testified to police that he was unarmed at the time.
The Coalition for Community Control Over the Police is asking LA District Attorney Steve Cooley to break from his political campaign for attorney general and prosecute the officers responsible for both shootings. According to a statement from the Coalition, the group is also asking for an “all-elected, all-civilian, police control board with full authority over the police in all aspects,” because, they argue, the police cannot be trusted to investigate themselves.