LOS ANGELES (AP) — Police in Culver City, California, released body camera footage Thursday showing events before officers shot an unarmed man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in the back last year, including audio recordings of his estranged wife telling police he was armed and dangerous.
In the footage, officers are seen chasing after Guillermo Medina and yelling, “Stop running. You're going to get shot!” and then saying to each other that Medina was reaching into his waistband: “Gun in hand! Gun in hand!"
One officer is then heard saying “cell phone” as shots ring out and Medina falls to the ground, dropping a black phone.
Culver City police said none of the officers involved reported hearing the officer say it might be a cell phone in Medina's hand.
In recordings of Medina's wife speaking to a dispatcher and later to an officer who stayed with her after Guillermo Medina fled her apartment building that night, Adriana Medina described her husband as “dangerous," a gang member and said, “He's got a gun and I'm scared.” She also told the officer Medina had threatened to kill her and told her he had considered killing himself in a shootout.
The recordings contradict what she and her attorney told reporters on Tuesday at a press conference to announce they were filing a civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Dec. 18 fatal shooting in the Los Angeles suburb.
Adriana Medina told reporters she purposely avoided calling 911 and dialed the main number of the police station when her husband showed up at her apartment complex, pounding on windows. She said she hoped for a mental health intervention because her husband hadn't taken his medication for his schizophrenia in a couple of weeks.
She told police she did not believe her husband was going to hurt anyone, according to the lawsuit.
Attorney V. James DeSimone echoed that. “There was no report of domestic violence,” DeSimone said. “There was no report that he was threatening her with a handgun. She never saw a gun.”
DeSimone presented a surveillance video from a building that showed Medina loping up to a utility pole and then dropping to his knees and rolling onto his back. Officers approached slowly and one appeared to handcuff him. It appeared to take several minutes before first aid was rendered.
“I did not intentionally mislead,” DeSimone said Thursday when reached by The Associated Press for comment on the newly released recordings. He said his firm did its best to accurately convey what the client told them and she “clearly didn’t recall everything she told the police.”
“I think the underlying issue here still remains the same: he didn’t have a gun and he was shot in the back,” DeSimone said. "The law still does not justify killing him when less lethal means could have been used to apprehend him.”
Ed Obayashi, a policing expert who investigates use of force incidents for law enforcement in California and nationwide, disagrees. He said police were justified in firing their weapons based on what he saw in the body camera footage and what was said to dispatch.
In the recordings, Adriana Medina tells police her husband was outside her apartment waving around a gun and pounding on windows. Body camera footage then shows him ignoring police commands to come out of the complex, put his hands up and walk toward police. Instead, he ran and got into his car. Police pursue him through the streets of Los Angeles for nearly an hour as he rams a car at an intersection to move it out of the way and then crashes into a curb before getting out and running on foot.
Officers later found a replica handgun in his crashed vehicle, police said.
“Under these circumstances these officers were more than justified in believing that Guillermo has a gun and is willing to use it," Obayashi said.
The shooting is being investigated by the state attorney general’s office.
Watson reported from San Diego.