LA police in new 'deadly force' row: Outcry after officers shoot dead black witness in brutality case brought against the force

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The Independent Online
LOS ANGELES police face a fresh scandal about the use of deadly force after officers shot and fatally wounded a potentially crucial witness in a lawsuit alleging police brutality.

The case appears to add further weight to the argument of civil liberties campaigners who complain that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has done little to mend its ways despite much-trumpeted internal reforms and the international outrage over the beating of Rodney King.

The police and associates of the victim, Darrell Harts, have supplied radically differing accounts of the circumstances surrounding his shooting on 5 April, which is the subject of an investigation by the Los Angeles district attorney and a multi-million-dollar civil damages lawsuit.

According to the police, Mr Harts went berserk on the street and began firing at police officers after shooting a neighbour's dog. Police say they returned fire after he ignored an order to drop his gun and shot at them. He died of his injuries several days later.

However, Mr Harts, who was black, does not match the usual profile of many of those whom the police shoot with alarming regularity on the city's streets. He had a degree in criminal justice, no previous criminal record and was hoping to secure a job in the police force. His friends and relatives have evidence that he was unarmed when he was shot. In addition, documents from the local Department of Animal Regulation state that the dog was 'shot by the LAPD'.

An anonymous individual claiming to be an eye-witness has told the Los Angeles Times how Mr Harts was shot by officers firing from a moving unmarked car, and tried in vain to escape by scrambling away.

City officials have dismissed as outrageous allegations by the victim's associates that there could be some connection between Mr Harts' death and the fact that he was a likely witness in a suit being brought against the police by a black former professional footballer. The footballer claims he was the victim of a racially motivated assault when he was beaten and badly injured after police bumped him off his motorcycle, which he was riding with a white girl. Mr Harts was an eye-witness.

The affair is another addition to a growing file of incidents involving the use of deadly force by the police. Last year Amnesty International published a scathing report, following research into 40 cases, which found widespread evidence that Los Angeles police regularly seemed to use levels of force which were in breach of their in-house guidelines and of UN codes of conduct.