Panel rules LAPD officer broke policy by firing at suspect who was allegedly tasing him

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A Los Angeles police officer broke department policy by firing at a suspect who was allegedly stunning him with his own Taser in a South L.A. housing unit last year, the civilian Police Commission has ruled.

The decision marked a rare rebuke of an officer for opening fire in the face of what officials agreed was an immediate and deadly threat. However, officials found the officer had strayed so drastically from established police protocols in the lead-up to the shooting that the shooting itself was also unjustified.

The incident came after the suspect, 31-year-old Nicholas Hankins, allegedly tossed a gun into a van, resisted being detained, knocked the officer to the ground and then fled through the Nickerson Gardens public housing complex with the officer in pursuit in November, officials said.

In its unanimous decision Tuesday, the commission concurred with LAPD Chief Michel Moore's finding that Officer Jacob Duchsherer acted inappropriately when he fired one shot into the floor of the housing unit as the suspect was allegedly stunning him in the leg with his Taser.

“I have determined that as a result of inappropriate tactical decision-making, Officer Duchsherer unnecessarily placed himself at a significant tactical disadvantage,” Moore wrote in a report to the commission. “This tactical disadvantage unnecessarily exposed Officer Duchsherer to Hankins’ assaultive behavior, culminating in Officer Duchsherer’s use of lethal force.”

The round Duchsherer fired did not strike Hankins, who has pleaded not guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and resisting arrest charges in the encounter. Hankins could not be reached for comment.

The incident began about 10:50 p.m. on Nov. 20, 2020, when Duchsherer and partner Officer Min Yong Chung — members of the Southeast Area Gang Enforcement Detail — observed a group of men gathered around a vehicle double parked in a Nickerson Gardens parking lot, police said.

The officers, tasked with monitoring the Bounty Hunter Bloods gang and enforcing rules for the public housing community, told investigators that they were familiar with some of the men from previous arrests, knew them to be gang members, and knew they did not live in the community. Chung also told investigators that he had seen Hankins “make a tossing motion” toward a minivan in the lot as they pulled up, and believed he may have been stashing a firearm.

As the officers got out of their vehicle, Chung told Duchsherer to “grab” Hankins, and Duchsherer did so, telling Hankins he would explain why he was being detained after he complied, investigators found.

Hankins instead pulled his arms away, resisting detention, and Duchsherer moved his hands up to Hankins' neck to establish a hold “similar to a wrestling move commonly referred to as a full nelson,” the investigators found. Hankins continued to resist, and Duchsherer's body-camera was knocked to the ground — where it continued to record as Hankins allegedly used a “leg sweep” to knock Duchsherer to the ground before running off, investigators said.

Chung initially remained in the parking lot to keep an eye on the gun that Hankins had allegedly tossed into the van, which he said he could see but not access, investigators said. However, after about a minute, he decided to follow after Duchsherer, investigators said. Police said Chung's body-camera also became dislodged at some point during the incident and was never recovered.

Police alleged a second man retrieved the gun from the van after Chung left the area and tossed it near some trash cans before being detained by additional officers arriving on the scene. The gun was later recovered, and the man was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

As Duchsherer chased Hankins through the complex, Hankins at some point lay prone on the ground, as if intending to surrender, Duchsherer told investigators. However, he then got up as Duchsherer approached, the officer said. Believing Hankins was going to try to fight him, Duchsherer said he fired his Taser at Hankins from several feet away, causing Hankins to run once more.

At the porch of a nearby unit, Duchsherer told investigators that Hankins appeared to surrender once more, but then turned on him. Duchsherer activated his Taser again, this time in “drive-stun” mode to Hankins shoulder, investigators said.

Hankins then turned and entered the unit, running past two children inside. Duchsherer followed him and grabbed Hankins' shirt near the unit's back door, investigators said. Duchsherer then Tasered Hankins a third time before Hankins allegedly grabbed Duchsherer's Taser and activated it in “drive-stun” mode against the officer's leg, investigators said.

Duchsherer told investigators that he believed his entire body was about to “shut down,” and feared Hankins might kill him if it did. So he drew his gun and fired at Hankins, missing him, investigators said.

Hankins then ran outside. Duchsherer followed with his gun still drawn and ordered Hankins to get down on the ground, investigators said. Chung spotted them there, and Hankins was taken into custody, investigators said. Hankins was later treated for a Taser probe to his right torso.

In his report on the shooting, Moore criticized Duchsherer's actions from the start of the encounter, saying the officer immediately “deviated from his predetermined role as cover officer” as he and Chung approached the men in the parking lot.

Duchsherer then attempted to arrest Hankins alone, ran after him alone, and “repeatedly failed to assess the risk that Hankins posed” to his safety as he chased him through the complex, Moore wrote.

When Hankins stopped at the porch, Duchsherer rushed up to him “instead of creating distance and seeking cover,” and “despite having already been overpowered by Hankins,” Moore wrote.

Duchsherer never checked to ensure Chung was with him, and rushed into the unit without backup and without knowing who was inside instead of assessing the situation first, Moore wrote. During the pursuit, he never radioed his location or the fact that he was chasing someone, Moore wrote.

When “assessed in light of the series of substandard tactical decisions” leading up to the shooting and “the nexus between those decisions and the circumstances under which Officer Duchsherer found himself compelled to fire his weapon,” the shooting was “inconsistent” with department policy, Moore wrote.

What penalty Duchsherer may face for breaching policy in the shooting is unclear. The administrative discipline process for LAPD officers found to have violated department policy is closed to the public.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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