Long Beach Cops Fatally Shoot Man With Wooden Stick: UPDATE
*See end of story for an update with news of the family's lawsuit and a link to a video of the shooting filmed by an eyewitness.
Original Post, April 28, 2:08 p.m.: Yesterday was one of those typically beautiful and blustery spring days in coastal Long Beach. At Bixby Park, one of the city's oldest and largest, which sits on a bluff overlooking the ocean, families picnicked and played soccer. On the beach below the bluff, people took advantage of the weather to play on the sand or bike or run along the boardwalk.
That was the scene at about 3:30 p.m. yesterday when several shots rang out, according to witnesses, and yellow police tape shut off Ocean Blvd. at Cherry St., creating a large traffic jam. The tape was put up at the orders of homicide detectives: Long Beach police had just shot to death a man who it turns out was wielding a wooden stick.
According to the LA Times, the man in a white SUV had been chased from Compton by L.A. County Sheriff's deputies after an incident at a Target store in which he allegedly had brandished a pair of scissors in a threatening manner, although police have yet to explain if the man was alleged to have committed a crime there. In any case, the suspect fled the scene in his vehicle and led deputies on a chase through downtown Long Beach, where he reached a dead end on a beach access street just a block from Bixby park
As a helicopter hovered ahead for up to 20 minutes, during which time several Long Beach police cruisers reached the scene, the man refused to leave his vehicle. When he finally did, he was carrying what police have described as a large wooden stick, and appeared to be making a run for the beach. Witnesses said they heard six to eight shots in quick succession before an ambulance arrived to take the suspect to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
As we've previously noted in Navel Gazing, Long Beach police have chalked up a lot of officer-involved shootings in the past several months, including three such killings in a five-day period last September.
Update, April 29, 10:06 a.m.: A cellphone video uploaded to Youtube yesterday provides graphic footage of the unarmed suspect being shot by Long Beach police. Filmed from a nearby apartment where several people can be heard talking in the background, the footage begins with a few uneventful minutes worth of a closeup of the white SUV. The suspect can then be seen opening the driver's door and walking quickly away from the vehicle. If the suspect was wielding a large wooden stick as police and some eyewitnesses have stated, it is not visible in the footage, which is somewhat blurry.
As this point, one of the people in the apartment says "Oh, he pretty" and other people can be heard laughing. There is no sense of the impending tragedy in their voices. The suspect proceeds to the beach-access staircase, foliage momentarily blocking the camera's view. The suspect then reemerges as he somewhat awkwardly runs down the staircase, followed by a police dog. As the man reaches the bottom of the stairs several shots ring out, some striking the sand near him as he crumbles to the ground.
"Oh my god," screams one woman in the background. "That shit hurt, doesn't it," says someone else.
The suspect, who is still alive, can be seen lifting both his arms, possibly to show he's not holding any weapon, and he appears to be rolling around as if in pain. This continues for a minute or so while the people in the apartment express amazement that police aren't doing anything to help him. The man is now lying on his back with his arms raised away from his head and body. "He isn't doing anything," a woman says. "Why aren't they bringing any medical aid?"
Finally, five officers with guns drawn can be seen running up to the man, who is now completely motionless. The footage ends as they roll him on his back, handcuff him and search the body.
A woman in the apartment then predicts what we now know to be true. "He's not going to make it," she says.
Update, May 16, 9:40 a.m.: The family of the shooting victim, Jason Conoscenti, has filed a $10 million wrongful death claim against Long Beach. The claim was filed by attorney Dale Galipo on behalf of Nona Opsitnik and Linda Sterett, both of whom are aunts of Conoscenti according to the LA Times>. The claim asserts that police "unjustly used excessive force" against Conoscenti, and that he posed "no imminent threat of death or serious physical injury" to the public.
Assuming the city rejects the family's claim, Galipo's next step would be to file a lawsuit, and it's already clear that the eyewitness footage cited above will be at the center of the case. Although police officials have stated that officers only shot Conoscenti because he appeared to be reaching for his waistband, the video shows Conoscenti running down the stairs with both hands clearly visible.
On May 8, the Weekly published a story about Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell's race for LA County Sheriff, noting that officer involved shootings have skyrocketed during his tenure in the past few years. Galipo noted that fact in his interview with the Times.
"We believe Long Beach has a problem with officer-involved shootings and they've had a problem for some time," he said. "Ironically, the chief of Long Beach police wants to run for sheriff of L.A. county...One wonders whether a person with his track record is the best person."