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Deputy to stand trial for voluntary manslaughter

 A sheriff’s deputy was ordered to stand trial May 31 on a voluntary manslaughter charge stemming from the fatal on-duty shooting of a man in Norwalk — the first prosecution of its type in the county in almost two decades.

After a hearing that stretched over portions of three days, Superior Court Judge Michael E. Pastor denied the defense’s motion to dismiss the case against Luke Liu, 40, who was charged last December with the Feb. 24, 2016, shooting of 26-year-old Francisco Garcia at a gas station in the 10900 block of Alondra Boulevard.

Liu was on patrol when he spotted a potentially stolen vehicle at the gas station and pulled up behind it, according to prosecutors.

The sheriff’s deputy walked up to the driver’s side door, then walked to the rear of the car, and when he returned to the driver’s side door, Garcia began to drive away at about 5 miles per hour, prosecutors said.

Liu allegedly drew his gun, ran alongside the car and fired seven shots within 20 seconds of first approaching the vehicle.

Garcia was hit by four of the rounds — two to the lower back and once each to the shoulder area and knee — and died at a hospital.

Liu pulled the man from the vehicle after the shooting and performed CPR on him before paramedics arrived, according to witnesses called during the hearing.

Liu’s attorney, Michael D. Schwartz, told the judge that he did not believe there was sufficient evidence to prove that the shooting was unlawful.

Deputy District Attorney Oscar Plascencia countered that Garcia’s killing was “completely unnecessary” and that the unarmed man should have never been shot. He told the judge that there were “many, many other options” of how Liu could have reacted when Garcia tried to drive away.

The judge said he paid “extreme attention to the video evidence,” referring to surveillance video that partly captured the shooting. He also noted that the standard of proof required for the hearing is lower than that required at trial.

Sheriff’s officials said shortly after the shooting that the deputy was in fear for his life. They said then that the deputy suffered minor injuries when he was struck by the vehicle. The judge ordered Liu, who is free on a $1.1 million bond, to return to the downtown Los Angeles courthouse June 14 for arraignment.

He could face up to 21 years in state prison if convicted of the charge, which includes an allegation that he personally and intentionally discharged a firearm.

Liu, a more than 10-year veteran who was assigned to the Cerritos Sheriff’s Station, was placed on administrative leave last December, according to the sheriff’s department. His current status with the department was not immediately available.

Los Angeles County agreed last year to pay Garcia’s family $1.75 million to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit.

In a written statement released shortly after the criminal case was filed against Liu last Dec. 11, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said, “We believe the officer’s use of deadly force was unjustified and unreasonable under the circumstances.”

The district attorney has come under fire recently from some Southland civil rights leaders for failing to prosecute police officers and sheriff’s deputies for on-duty shootings.

The last Los Angeles County law enforcement officer to be prosecuted for an on-duty shooting was Los Angeles Police Department Officer Ronald Orosco, according to the Los Angeles Times. Orosco was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading no contest to a felony count of shooting into a motor vehicle, wounding a man who survived being struck in the back in June 2000.

“We believe the officer’s use of deadly force was unjustified and unreasonable under the circumstances.”

— District Attorney Jackie Lacey 

From City News Service