By Amy Berberyan and Maria Pia Matos
LOS ANGELES, CA – Los Angeles City Controller Kenneth Mejia last Thursday released a tweet critical of the early January 2023 killings by LAPD (Los Angeles Police Dept.) of Takar Smith, Keenan Anderson and Oscar Sanchez.
“Our thoughts are with the families and friends of Takar Smith, Keenan Anderson, and Oscar Sanchez,” said Mejia, elected in 2022, and the first Asian American elected to citywide office.
Takar Smith, a Black man, was fatally shot by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department.
According to family members, Takar Smith’s wife walked to the LAPD Rampart station and asked for help because she believed her husband was suffering from a mental health crisis. She said she showed authorities a video of Smith and said he was alone at home during his mental health crisis.
Shameka Smith maintained during a press conference outside police headquarters Friday she had been trying to help her husband the day he was shot by police.
“My husband was a great man; he just needed help,” Shameka Smith said.
Police claimed they found a kitchen knife in Smith’s possession before tasing him and then firing live rounds, Jan. 2, killing him.
In the recording of a 911 call provided by the department, a caller can be heard telling dispatchers Smith has schizophrenia and had not been taking his medication.
Takar Smith had been diagnosed with schizophrenia within the last six years, said family attorney Eric Valenzuela.
But now, Smith is the first victim of the LAPD during the first week of 2023, said Mejia.
Keenan Anderson died the next day after being tasered four times in around 30 seconds by police.
According to LAPD Police Chief Michel Moore, Anderson was engaged in a traffic collision and attempted to flee. Anderson was “resisting officers’ actions to take him into custody,” Moore claimed.
Anderson appears distraught in body-cam footage taken by one of the officers and screams at one point that someone is trying to murder him.
Oscar Leon Sanchez was shot and killed in a confrontation with LAPD officers the same day. Sanchez is accused of threatening a driver with a knife before authorities arrested him at an abandoned property.
According to the LAPD claims, Sanchez “moved toward [the officers] while clutching a two-foot-long metal device with an approximate three-inch spike protruding from one end,” at which time police officers fired non-lethal and live bullets.
Sanchez’s relatives stated he was suffering from mental illness at the time of his death. According to the family’s attorney, Sanchez suffered from a severe depressive disorder.
The LAPD said that no mental health team was called in the Smith or the other two incidents.
In the US, people with mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be killed during police contact than other citizens approached or stopped by law enforcement, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center.
After watching the videos of what happened to the three victims, City Controller Mejia confirmed “all three incidents reveal police encounters with individuals experiencing mental health crises.”
Police Chief Moore expressed that he was “deeply concerned” over the killings and stated he would provide as much transparency around their investigations “as the law allows.”
Mejia demanded LAPD release the full recordings of the three respective incidents to the public in order to ensure that the perpetrators take full accountability for their actions, adding that other police departments release unedited footage after “deadly uses of force,” and that LAPD should follow this precedent.
“We have serious concerns and questions about the tactics used by the officers in these killings,” Mejia stated.
The circumstances around Smith’s death in particular show that the LAPD disregarded the information they received about his history of mental health needs, said Mejia, adding, police failed to provide teams trained in de-escalation regarding such mental health crises, leading to Smith’s death.
Similarly, de-escalation tactics were ignored in Anderson’s incident. Mejia noted that, since he had just been in a traffic accident, Anderson encountered the police “in distress.”
In the video that shows his arrest, Anderson is heard saying, “They’re trying to George Floyd me.”
Mejia also described Sanchez’s mental state as being in the middle of a crisis. This led to Sanchez being unable to understand what was happening, and LAPD exacerbated this by relying on force rather than de-escalation tactics, suggested Mejia.
“It is our job to create transparency and boost accountability,” said Mejia. “That always starts with the data.”
According to LAPD, 41 percent of individuals shot by LAPD in 2021 were those experiencing some sort of mental crisis. This statistic is over double that of 2020’s 19 percent.
Over the past decade, Mejia notes that “LA taxpayers spent $359 million on LAPD settlements and judgments.” The city also spent $243 million on payouts involving civil rights or excessive force violations, which largely came out of the city’s General Fund, he added.
As a result, a failure to de-escalate on LAPD’s part not only cost three lives, but takes money away from necessary city services and resources, the city official noted.
Mejia said his team is trying to determine how useful funding provided to LAPD regarding mental health incidents is to the department. If it is not useful, he said he intends to apply the funds to an alternative outside of LAPD.
“We’re determined to prevent tragedies like these three killings from happening in the future,” Mejia concluded. “No one should have to experience the pain that those who knew and cared for Takar, Keenan, and Oscar will live with.”