LOS ANGELES — The fatal shooting of an African American woman in an alley in Baldwin Hills by a Los Angeles police officer nearly two years ago was justifiable, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Officer Brent Ramirez “acted in lawful self-defense at the time he fired his weapon” when he shot and killed Redel Jones in August 2015, the D.A.’s office said in a memo which went public June 6.
Jones, 30, was armed with a knife and was suspected of robbing a Baldwin Hills pharmacy right before the shooting.
Her death came during a national uproar over how police officers use force, especially against African Americans. It caught the attention of Black Lives Matter and other local activists.
Last July, activists protested and camped outside City Hall for more than a month in demand of justice for Jones after the Police Commission ruled the officer acted
Melina Abdullah, a Cal State L.A. professor and Black Lives Matter organizer, told the Los Angeles Times that she believed the shooting warranted charges. She argued that Jones did not pose a danger and questioned why the officer felt he had to shoot a woman who stood only about 5 feet tall.
“It’s enraging and heartbreaking at the same time,” she told The Times of the recent decision. “I think it points to a larger issue with this D.A., where we haven’t seen any charges filed.”
District Attorney Jackie Lacey has come under repeated criticism from black activists for not pursuing charges against police officers involved in questionable shootings, even when Police Department officials recommend charges be filed.
In February, Lacey issued a statement on how a prosecutor’s duty is to seek justice when police use force.
“I am not a prosecutor without a heart,” Lacey said in the statement. “I know when the use of force turns deadly; families are devastated. Family members and friends are grieving. The community is in pain.”
Lacey stated that since 2013, her office has filed 15 cases against a total of 18 officers charged with either using excessive force or committing sexual assaults while on duty. Of the 18 officers charged, 12 of them have been convicted. Four officers have not yet gone to trial. One was acquitted. One case was dismissed because the charged officer died prior to the start of trial.
“My job is to make certain that every shooting is thoroughly reviewed in accordance with the law,” Lacey said. “To that end, I am confident that if you look at our legal analysis based on the evidence we had at the time, you will find that we made the right call in every case.”
The series of events leading to the Jones’ shooting began around 1:45 p.m. on Aug. 12, 2015, after a woman entered Stocker Pharmacy on Santa Rosalia Drive. She gave the cashier a note demanding cash.
According to the District Attorney’s memo, the note said, “I have a gun. Give me all the money in the register.”
Jones reportedly pointed a knife at the cashier and managed to take off with approximately $80. Two police officers responded to the scene and spoke with the cashier, who described the robber as a black female wearing an oversized beige shirt, baggy pants and a purple scarf tied on her head.
Police broadcast the assailant’s description to other officers in the area. Ramirez and his partner saw Jones and trailed her as she walked along an alley. The officers reportedly demanded her to stop, but Jones kept walking.
At that point, the officers parked their car, got out and went after the woman on foot. According to the memo, that’s when Jones pulled out the knife.
“She’s got a knife in hand! She’s running!” Ramirez shouted into his radio. Officers repeatedly commanded Jones to stop and drop her weapon as they chased her down the alley. At one point, the memo stated that Jones took steps toward the officer and “charged” at him with the knife.
Ramirez fired five rounds at Jones.
Ramirez’ partner also fired his Taser but missed. Paramedics were called and arrived at the scene. Jones was pronounced dead.
The note used in the robbery was found under the woman’s body and the money was found stashed in her pants pocket, according to the memo. Police also recovered a 13-inch black-handled knife with an 8-inch blade.
The D.A.’s memo also included witness statements. Two men told investigators they saw officers chase Jones and saw her move toward the police whole holding a knife. Another witness recounted to The Times that she told investigators she didn’t see anything in Jones’ hand when she was shot.
The memo concluded that besides acting in lawful self-defense, Ramirez used “reasonable force to apprehend an armed, dangerous fleeing felon.”
Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School and UCLA Law School, says the history of cases in Los Angeles — from Rodney King to Rampart — has shown how hard it is to convict police officers.
“They are allowed by law to use force, even deadly force,” Levenson said. “It is hard for jurors to believe that a person sworn to protect them would intentionally use deadly force for an improper purpose. [Jurors] always seem willing to give police the benefit of the doubt.”
She further explained that police for the most part could argue that they had to make a split-second decision.
“Even if they made a mistake that would not be sufficient to show beyond a reasonable doubt that they ‘willfully’ used excessive force,” Levenson said.
While the Police Commission ruled that Ramirez was within policy when he shot Jones, it did find fault with some of the tactics used by officers leading up to the shooting.