By LUCY GUANUNA
ECHO PARK — David “Dizzy” Martinez was waiting for his common-law wife and sister to buy tacos when he found himself surrounded by police officers pointing guns at him on a March night in 2013. According to police, Martinez was pointing a “black object” believed to be a gun when officers opened fire on the 47-year-old Echo Park man. But that black object turned out to be a cellphone, which was found damaged and splattered with blood next to Martinez as he lay wounded on the sidewalk, according to an internal LAPD investigation. Martinez survived the shooting but died about two months later after he suffered a seizure. The police department says its officers did nothing wrong but Martinez’ family is preparing to take legal action.
The findings of the investigation, which were approved by the Los Angeles Police Commission in February and recently reviewed by The Eastsider, showed that the officers followed LAPD policy, said department spokeswoman Norma Eisenman. “The application of lethal force for each officer as indicated was objectively reasonable,” according an online summary of the investigation.
The fact that no disciplinary action was taken against the patrol officers involved prompted Martinez’ family to start taking the necessary steps to file a lawsuit against the LAPD, Benavides said.
“I feel bad they shot him in front of my face like they were hunting a deer. They took my daughter’s father away,” Benavidez said. “We have plenty of evidence and they will be hearing me in court.”
The online summary of the investigation does not identify Martinez or the officers by name but it provides a detailed look at the LAPD’s view of the events that lead up to the shooting of Martinez.
Martinez had just returned to Echo Park on March 19 of last year after being released from jail on an open container violation. As he waited near the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Echo Park Avenue for Benavides and his sister to buy tacos at a nearby food truck, sirens blared as an LAPD squad car came rushing down the street. Officers were responding to a caller who had reported that a drunken gang member with a gun had fired two or three shots.
The officers, who said that Martinez fit the suspect’s description, removed their guns out of their holsters and took cover behind the doors of their squad car, according to the investigaiton. A second squad car arrived, and the officers yelled at Martinez to raise his hands into the air. But Martinez kept moving back and forth, keeping his hands in his pockets and yelling obscenities at officers. Martinez then went behind a utility pole and removed a “black object” from his pocket and moved it back and forth between his hands, police said Martinez started running as one officer was unlocking his shotgun. The police summary then describes what happened next:
After running approximately 15 feet, the Subject stopped, turned 180 degrees to his right, and took approximately two steps toward the officers. Simultaneously, he raised his arms and acquired what appeared to be a two-hand shooting position as he extended his arms toward the officers.
As that occurred, Officers A, B, C and D, perceived the Subject was armed with a pistol and was preparing to shoot them. The officers engaged the Subject with their pistols.
The Subject was struck by the gunfire and fell to the ground.”
After Martinez was handcuffed, police searched him for weapons but found none. “However, a dark colored cellular phone was present on the ground adjacent to the Subject’s right shoulder,” according to the investigation summary. “The cellular phone had visible traces of blood and visible damage, suggesting it had been struck by a projectile.”
Police said the evidence and witness accounts supported the view that Martinez was using the cellphone to simulate a handgun. “Consequently, the application of lethal force for each officer as indicated was objectively reasonable,” according to the investigation.
Benavidez said the officers were familiar with Martinez. “They knew who he was and they knew who they were shooting at,” she said. “They knew he was a mental patient and they shot him anyway.”
Last August, Martinez’ mother, Angie Cano, joined a demonstration outside LAPD headquarters to protest this past summer’s officer-involved shooting of Ezell Ford in South L.A. Cano told the Daily News:
All the police shootings bring me back to it, because it just doesn’t stop. They’re killing people for no reason.”
Lucy Guanuna has reported on a variety of issues, including business, education and social justice movements in her native Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Daily Sundial, L.A. Activist, and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.