Inglewood shootings

Inglewood police officers have shot and killed five unarmed suspects since 2003. One suspect, Eddie Felix Franco, (far right, shot Aug. 31, 2008) was carrying a realistic-looking toy gun. The others (from left): Jule Dexter III, age 27, June 6, 2005; Richard Ray Tyson, age 20, May 9, 2007; Michael Byoune, age 19, May 11, 2008, and Ruben Ortega, age 23, July 1, 2008.

One summer evening in 2005, an Inglewood police officer stood with his gun aimed at a schizophrenic man who had been stopped for drinking beer in public.

The officer ordered Jule Dexter to put his hands on the hood of the police car, but Dexter's baggy pants started slipping.

"Please let me pull my pants up," Dexter pleaded, according to a witness' sworn testimony.

"Don't move!" the officer yelled.

But Dexter, 27, reached to pull up his pants, witnesses said. The officer fired four shots into Dexter's back and head, killing him.

Over the last six years, Inglewood police officers have repeatedly resorted to physical or deadly force against suspects who were unarmed or accused of minor offenses, a Times investigation found.

In the span of four months this year, Inglewood officers shot and killed four people, three of them unarmed. The Times' review of court documents, law enforcement records and interviews shows that the problem is not new.

* Five of the 11 people shot and killed by Inglewood police since 2003 were unarmed. They include a man who fled when officers tried to stop him for riding his bicycle on a sidewalk. An officer said he fired when the man reached for a bulge near his waist, which turned out to be a rolled-up T-shirt.

* Several officers -- including a training sergeant -- have complained about the department's policy on when to shoot and about a lack of training.

* To investigate shootings by police, the department has assigned the vice president of the Inglewood police officers' union, which advocates for officers accused of wrongdoing, and a detective accused by a prosecutor of lying about his own off-duty shooting.

* Two Inglewood officers were involved in using electric Taser guns on unarmed suspects four times in five weeks -- including on one man's genitals -- prompting defense attorneys to call them the "Taser Twins."

Earlier this year, the city hired consultants to review the department's training, policies and procedures and initiated a training program to improve officers' tactics.

Inglewood Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said it was unfair to portray her officers as quick to pull the trigger or excessive in using force.

In some cases, she said, police opened fire only after suspects stabbed officers, shot at them or pointed guns in their direction. The 195-member department responds to more than 130,000 calls each year, she said, usually without problems or headlines.

"We interact with people who are exceedingly violent and resistive to the lesser levels of force, and we don't always shoot them," said Seabrooks, who became chief last year.

Inglewood officers have shot unarmed people they mistakenly believed posed a threat on six occasions, or a quarter of all shootings by police since 2003. Two of those people were carrying toy weapons. Five died and one was wounded.

On four other occasions, officers opened fire at moving cars, a practice strongly discouraged by many police agencies, including Inglewood.

"That's a lot of shootings in a smaller department," said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor at the University of South Carolina who has helped police agencies draft policies on the use of deadly force. "It raises a red flag."

Comparing officer shootings at different agencies is difficult because of varying crime rates, demographics and force size. Few agencies keep readily available data on the circumstances surrounding such shootings. Nevertheless, statistics from nearby agencies suggest that Inglewood's numbers are high.