The family of John Winkler, who was mistakenly shot and killed Monday at a West Hollywood apartment building by deputies responding to a report of a knife fight, issued a statement today praising Winkler, expressing sympathy for the deputies involved and asking that their privacy be respected.
Winkler, 30, suffered a single fatal gunshot wound around 9:30 p.m. when three deputies opened fire on him as he fled an apartment at 939 Palm Ave. where he and two other men had been attacked by a man who later was arrested.
Winkler, who went to the apartment to help his neighbor, had moved to Los Angeles six months ago from Seattle and had recently been hired as a production assistant on the Comedy Central series “Tosh.0.”
The man arrested was Alexander McDonald, 27, who is design director at Pogoseat, a mobile app, and a native of Seattle. McDonald was one of two tenants of the apartment.
“John was a kind, funny, smart young man, with a bright wit and kind word for anyone that he met,” Winkler’s uncle, Craig Dawson, said in a statement issued on behalf of Winkler’s family. “We are grasping to understand why he was taken away from us in such a tragic way.”
Winkler was described as “incredibly giving” and “always ready to do anything for friends and family.”
“It is no surprise to us that he put his own life at risk to help a friend,” the statement said. “This is exactly the quality that made him a very special soul.”
The family also thanked those who have expressed their support and sympathy after the shooting.
“Moving forward, we seek to understand the reasons why the sheriff’s deputies shot and killed John. We know that shooting and killing an innocent man must be a horrible burden for those deputies, and they are in our prayers as well, as they attempt to cope with the circumstances of his death.
“We ask that the media respect our privacy as we attempt to deal with John’s death.”
Lt. David Coleman of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau said that deputies responding to a call from another resident of the building were told that there were only two men living in the apartment where the altercation was taking place and that the suspect was a white man with a thin build wearing a black shirt.
Deputies stood at the front door of the apartment and tried to contact those inside when “the door suddenly opened and a male victim came rushing out,” Coleman said.“He was covered in blood and bleeding profusely from the neck. Simultaneously, victim Winkler ran out the door, lunging at the back of the fleeing victim. Both ran directly at the deputies.”
“Winkler was similar to the description of the suspect and was wearing a black shirt. Believing Winkler was the assailant and the assault was ongoing and he would attack the entry team, three deputies fired their duty weapons at him. Victim Winkler was struck by the gunfire and fell to the floor, and the male victim also collapsed, struck once by the gunfire.”
Deputies then heard the sound of a fight coming from inside the apartment. They entered and saw a man on the living room floor struggling with McDonald, Coleman said.
“Suspect McDonald had overpowered the victim and was choking and tearing at his face,” Coleman said, adding that the victim was nearly unconscious, and a large knife was on the floor nearby.
Investigators were told that McDonald had held Winkler and two other men at knifepoint inside, Coleman said.
“In a rage, the suspect began stabbing the men and fighting with them as the deputies arrived,” Coleman said. “One of the victims was a roommate of the suspect; Winkler and the other victim were visiting at the time of the incident.”
The man who had run out of the apartment with Winkler was in stable condition at a hospital, where he was being treated for stab wounds to the neck and a gunshot wound to a leg, while the other victim was released from a hospital after being treated for stab wounds to his legs, arms and chest, Coleman said on Thursday. McDonald was taken to a hospital and treated for minor injuries and released. He is being held on $4.1 million bail. He pleaded not guilty Thursday to one count each of murder and torture and two counts of attempted murder, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. He is due back in court May 8.
The attack was the second to take place in the same 44-unit building in a ten-day period. On March 29 deputies responded to a call and found Kurtland Ma, 34, a doctor who had recently moved to West Hollywood, stabbed to death on the kitchen floor. His boyfriend, Andres Davids, 36, was found in the bathroom and was charged with Ma’s murder. Davids is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.
The two deaths of young men in such a brief period of time have stunned local residents, some of whom plan to hold a candlelight memorial at 9 p.m. on Sunday in front of the apartment building at 939 Palm Ave.