LAPD officer caught saying 'happy hunting' before fatal shooting gets 2-day suspension
A Los Angeles police SWAT officer who was caught on body-camera video telling his colleagues “happy hunting” before a fatal police shooting last spring has received a two-day suspension after an internal investigation, according to LAPD disciplinary records.
The newly released records identify the officer by his rank — police officer III — but don't name him, due to state privacy laws. His remark was made while preparing with other SWAT officers to surround a man named Leron James, who was armed with a handgun and had barricaded himself in a downtown L.A. apartment building. Police say James, 54, fired down on officers from a window and the officers returned fire, killing him.
Department officials have said that the remark was caught on the body camera of another officer who happened to be walking past and was discovered during a subsequent review of video from the incident.
The episode was seized on by department critics, who said it reflected a culture of brutality and callousness within SWAT.
Greg "Baba" Akili, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, said that the two-day suspension was, at best, a slap on the wrist that sends the message that the department isn't serious about holding officers accountable.
“We’re not seeking just to punish people, we’re seeking real accountability, because by having real accountability we can prevent this from happening," he said Saturday.
The elite SWAT unit had been under scrutiny, after a former sergeant sued the city alleging that the team operates under a “culture of violence” driven by a group of influential members known as the “SWAT Mafia." The suit, brought in 2020 by former Sgt. Tim Colomey, alleged that certain problematic members of SWAT “glamorize the use of lethal force” and ensured that officers who “share the same values” are promoted in the unit while commanders turn a “blind eye” to the problems.
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore at the time said he was disturbed by the "happy hunting" comment, but denied the SWAT mafia claims alleged in the lawsuit, saying the unit's members have consistently shown restraint and skill while handling difficult and dangerous situations. Moore previously said he didn't know which officers may have heard the "happy hunting" remark. But a person with knowledge of the incident told The Times that the two officers who later opened fire on James were among the group gathered at the time.
Moore later ordered a 10-year review of the unit's operations to determine whether "any potential problems or patterns" existed in how its members used force. The controversial report, published in July, concluded that SWAT officers used force in only a small fraction of deployments between 2012 and 2022 — no force was used in 1,245 of the 1,350 incidents, the report found.
Officials credited changes in policy and other safeguards, such as adopting body cameras, assigning a police psychologist to weigh in on all crisis negotiation situations, and overhauling how officers are recruited for the unit. The unit also worked with the Office of Constitutional Policing and Policy to overhaul its protocols for carrying out search warrants after the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was fatally shot in her Kentucky home in 2020 by police who burst in without warning.
Although complaints about officers' use of disrespectful and abusive language toward civilians are nothing new, discipline in such cases is rare.
LAPD disciplinary records posted online show only a handful of cases in which an employee was punished for making "improper remarks." One officer was admonished for referring to someone as "Boo Boo" and making other unwanted comments during an on-duty encounter; that person later lodged a formal complaint with the department. In another case, a lieutenant received a 10-day suspension after referring to a complainant in a text message as "Ham planet and a fat bureaucrat."
Times staff writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.