UPDATE, DEC., 21, 4:30 P.M.: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California is pressuring for renewed probe into the deadly shooting of Noel Aguilar by Los Angeles County sheriff deputies. New cellphone footage of the controversial encounter last year in north Long Beach has gone viral and raised new questions. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office (LACDA) investigated the shooting and found it within policy in a report released on February 23, 2015. But the ACLU says in a statement that the video evidence should prompt DA Jackie Lacey to take another look.
“If you watch this new video, what's not at all clear is that anybody says the word “gun” in an urgent way before deputy Jose Ruiz fires the first shot, which is the one that strikes his partner,” ACLU staff attorney Catherine Wagner says. “In terms of what happens next, that's a pivotal moment.” Ruiz told investigators that he heard his partner Albert Murad yell “gun!” before firing the first shot. Murad recounted to investigators that he heard Ruiz say “gun” before opening fire on Aguilar three times from behind.
But that discrepancy isn't the only thing that troubles the civil liberties group. “After shooting Mr. Aguilar multiple times, the officers, rather than attempting to resuscitate him or keep him alive, they appeared to have just laid on top of him in a way that would ensure further harm,” Wagner adds. The ACLU is also calling on the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department to disclose whether the shooting and actions after it fall under policy and training guidelines.
Before Lacey's team can consider reopening the case, they need a copy of the video first. “The last time I checked, which was this afternoon, we still have not received it,” says LACDA spokeswoman Jane Robison. “When we receive any new evidence we will review it.” The investigation included cellphone video shot by another person near the scene before the new footage surfaced publicly. The LACDA noted that differences between deputies' recollections and the first recording were considered but offered little else besides that. What, if any, changes the new evidence bring remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the family of Noel Aguilar is organizing a protest on January 16, two days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in Long Beach to demand justice.
ORIGINAL POST: DEC., 18, 2:30 P.M.: Gruesome cellphone video has surfaced showing the fatal deputy-involved shooting of Noel Aguilar in Long Beach last year. Around 10 a.m. on May 26, 2014, Aguilar rode his bike near 69th Way and Long Beach Boulevard when two Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputies tried to stop him for wearing headphones. After an initial struggle, the 23-year-old fled by foot. When deputies caught up to Aguilar, they tried to arrest him. “During that handcuffing process, Mr. Aguilar broke free and he grabbed onto one of the deputy's guns,” LA Sheriff's Department Lt. Steve Jauch told NBC4-TV back on June 6, 2014.
Cellphone footage obtained by the Weekly starts rolling when deputies are on top of Aguilar after the foot chase. “Is it a gun?” deputy Albert Murad asks his partner Jose Ruiz. “It's a gun, it's a gun,” Ruiz responds. “You fucking move, I'm going to kill you bitch,” Ruiz tells Aguilar. The two deputies attempt to cuff Aguilar when he wiggles his hand free. Aguilar tries to get up, holding on to the gated fence nearby. Moments later, after a gunshot rings out, deputy Murad screams and says he has just being shot in the stomach. “I didn't shoot nobody,” Aguilar says.
After more struggling, Aguilar turns to his side and asks why deputy Ruiz has pulled out his gun out. The deputy then fires a shot into Aguilar's stomach. His partner quickly reaches for his own gun and fires three shots at Aguilar. The deputies can be heard saying to each other that Aguilar had tried to grab a hold of their weapons. Authorities said that Aguilar's gun had been recovered from the scene.
“The first shot is not justified because the victim is very vulnerable, he's on his side,” Angel Carrazco, an attorney representing Aguilar's mother and child, tells the Weekly. “The other three shots from the back, every single one of those is unjustified. For me, it seems like it's murder.”
The footage shared by Carrazco's Tustin-based law firm has been enhanced, slowed down in key spots and transcribed. “We got the video through an independent witness that was there,” he says. “This is evidence that we've had in the last twenty days.” Carrazco is handing the new evidence over to the Department of Justice, FBI, U.S. Attorney's office and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office in hopes of bringing criminal charges against the deputies involved. The attorney is already in litigation for a civil suit brought on behalf of Aguilar's family.
The day after the shooting, the Orange County Register ran a headline on the Aguilar killing that says the man, a documented gang member, had shot the deputy on scene. Further investigation by the LASD showed that the gunfire came from the other deputy's weapon and that Aguilar's weapon hadn't been discharged.
How the deputies handled Aguilar after he had been shot is also a matter of concern, Carrazco says. “He's facing down after being shot four times and they're on top of him,” Carrazco says. “There needs to be a medical conclusion to find out whether they were trying to get him to asphyxiate or bleed to death. By the video, it seems like they were trying to do both.” Aguilar can be heard screaming, “I'm dying!” while onlookers berate the deputies in English and Spanish that they shot him in the back and to get off him because he's dying.
The family of Noel Aguilar protested the shooting in the streets of Long Beach alongside activists. “We want justice for the family,” Carrazco says, in the form of criminal prosecution. “I believe police brutality has been going on for years,” the attorney adds. “Filming has changed the game because an image will tell a thousand words.”