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LA Police Commission says fatal shooting of Carnell Snell justified

In a screenshot from a security camera video released by the Los Angeles Police Department, a man can be seen holding what appears to be a handgun in his left hand.
Courtesy of LAPD
In a screenshot from a security camera video released by the Los Angeles Police Department, Carnell Snell, Jr. can be seen holding what appears to be a handgun in his left hand shortly before officers shot and killed him.

Despite protests by Black Lives Matter activists that led to three arrests and tearful pleas for justice from the great aunt who raised him, the Los Angeles Police Commission Tuesday ruled last summer's fatal shooting of 18-year-old Carnell Snell, Jr. by LAPD officers in South L.A. was justified.

The killing sparked angry demonstrations amid a national uproar over police shootings, prompting Chief Charlie Beck – after consulting with Mayor Eric Garcetti – to take the rare move of releasing video from a nearby security camera that showed Snell running with a gun in the moments before officers opened fire around 1 p.m. on October 1 near South Western Avenue and 108th Street.

"We do not condone children or teenagers having guns, of course," said Snell’s aunt Debbie Washington, who attended the commission meeting. "But he was no threat. He was running away from police officers trying to get home."

(A KPCC investigation found police in Los Angeles County shoot blacks at triple their proportion in the population.)

But the five-member civilian police commission appointed by Garcetti agreed with Beck’s recommendation that the officers were justified in opening fire because they believed they faced a deadly threat.

The police pursuit of Snell began when he jumped out of a car officers were trying to pull over because it had temporary paper license plates that did not match the year of the vehicle, according to Beck. 

After he ran out of sight of the security camera, Snell - who was African-American - sprinted between two houses and turned toward officers while holding the gun, according to the chief. Officers fired three shots that missed Snell, who then climbed a fence and turned again toward the officers while holding the gun, Beck said.

Police fired three more times, hitting Snell in the torso and knee just two doors down from where he lived with the great aunt who raised him, Carolena Hall.

"It is our prayer that CJ has justice," Hall told the commission before the vote. Snell suffered serious mental health problems resulting from fetal alcohol syndrome, she said.

He had gotten into trouble with a couple of residential robberies, Hall said, but insisted that Snell was never violent. She recounted a recent conversation with her great nephew who was always helpful bringing in groceries and washing family cars.

"He said, 'Ya know auntie, I am making bad choices.' And I said, yes you are. And he said, 'But I don’t mean to do it,’" Hall recalled.

"He wanted a mentor, he wanted a job," she said. "He envisioned living independently, but was faced with mental challenges since birth."

The Snell family doesn’t believe the police account that Snell turned toward officers with the gun. Neither do activists with Black Lives Matter, whose loud chanting twice prompted Police Commission President Matthew Johnson to shut down the meeting.

During the second interruption, police declared an unlawful assembly to clear the hearing room inside LAPD headquarters. Three people, including Black Lives Matter leader Melina Abdullah, were arrested. A fourth person was taken into custody and released.