Man Shot by Deputy at 939 Palm Was a Victim, Not the Assailant

Alexander T. McDonald
Alexander T. McDonald

The young man killed by gunfire from L. A. County Sheriff’s Department deputies Monday at 939 Palm Ave. apparently was a victim and not the instigator of the knife attack the deputies were called to investigate.

In a press release today, the Sheriff’s Department identified the young man as John Winkler, 30.  Winkler and two other men were being held hostage in the apartment, the department said, by its tenant, Alexander McDonald, who was threatening them with a knife.

“The deputies were told by informants there were only two males residing in the apartment and described the suspect as a male, white, thin build, wearing a black shirt,” the Sheriff’s Department said. “The field sergeant quickly assembled an entry team, along with deputies armed with less lethal weapons. The team staged at the front door of the apartment and announced themselves, but obtained no response. As deputies continued attempts to contact the people in the apartment, the apartment door suddenly opened and a male victim came rushing out. He was covered in blood and bleeding profusely from the neck. Simultaneously, victim Winkler ran out of 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.”

John Winker
John Winkler

When they entered the apartment, the deputies found McDonald fighting with another man, “choking and tearing at his face. Deputies could see the victim was about to go unconscious and a large knife was on the floor near them. The deputies were able to use physical force to subdue the suspect and end the assault.”

According to the press release, McDonald went into a rage, holding the three men at knifepoint and began to stab them. One of the victims was MacDonald’s roommate, who hasn’t been identified. Winkler and the other victim, who also hasn’t been officially identified, were visiting the second-floor apartment

Winkler and the victim who was shot were taken to the hospital, where Winkler later died from a single gunshot wound. The second victim was treated for stab wounds and a gunshot wound to the leg and released. The other man inside the apartment was also taken to a hospital where he was treated for stab wounds to the legs, arms and chest and then released.

McDonald, 27, was treated for minor injuries and is currently in custody. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has charged him with one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of torture. His bail is set at $4 million.  McDonald has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He is due back in court May 8

Winkler had moved to Los Angeles only a few months ago from Seattle and was employed  as a production assistant on the television comedy “Tosh.0.”

The gunfire and police cars startled nearby residents, who only two weeks ago had been stunned by the stabbing death in the same building of Kurland Ma, 34, a doctor who had recently moved to West Hollywood. His boyfriend, Andres Davids, 36, was charged with his murder. He is being held in lieu of $1 million bail..

  1. It’s interesting to note. The cops shot and killed Winkler because he was ‘acting’ aggressive towards them and because they thought the attack was on going. Afterwards, they go into the apartment and they see the actual attack going on with a knife nearby! But the cops didn’t shoot McDonald. Why? Because he wasn’t acting aggressive towards them which clearly shows that was their only concern.
    They got it wrong and backwards. They should have subdued Winkler and shot McDonald.

  2. I was friends with John in high school and so this hits pretty hard. He was always making jokes and people laugh. He was a great guy who was loyal to his friends. This is a tragic loss that should NOT EVER happened. There are no excuses for this. I hope there will be an investigation into the officer and police department. I understand that law enforcement has a job to do but this was too far.

  3. I certainly hope that the policeman who fired gets put in jail. This whole ” Winkler was lunging at him” is just bs.
    Additionally they managed to shoot the guy they thought was a victim too???
    Unless they saw a knife they should have tried to subdue the guy.
    And finally why the hell does it matter that the police were only told there were 2 people. Its not like every phonecall they recieve is 100% accurate. If you cant hire a cop who is intelligent enough to make a decision in the moment then dont hire

  4. A young innocent man died by the actions set into motion by A. MacDonald. The police are not at fault. Without A. MacDonald putting into motion this tragic series of event none of this would have happened.

    1. A) MacDonald should be held responsible – yes his actions put into motion what happened, but we do not have all the facts in this case. Some things in the information that was released do not make sense. There are contradictions from many witnesses and what the Sheriff’s department released.

      Many unfortunate things are set in motion daily – but at the end of the day we have a responsibility for our our actions and reactions to that. The WeHo Sheriffs reactions cost lives period. They have done this on many ocassions and keep repeating these mistakes with a “We are so sorry for this unfortunate situation” – This type of response is unacceptable.

      B) The WeHo officer and WeHo Sheriff Dept. should be held responsible

      C) Had the officer not acted irresponsible in shooting Winkler – TWO lives would have been saved – McDonald would be facing lesser charges and Winkler would be recovering from his knife wounds instead of being placed six feet under.

  5. 2 homicides in the same building directly in the heart of West Hollywood- (West Hollywood being a symbol for American peace, acceptance and shared prosperity regardless of race, differences in beliefs, sexual orientation, or even lifestyle) All of this happening as the US-Saudi straining relations play out what to do about Asserisi’s plea for US Protection living in, none-other, Weho.
    This isn’t just a sadly historic set of events marking potential issues of police misuse of authority resulting in true degradation to the civil and societal structure that has evolved here, this on every scale shows human and social flaws in what West Hollywood is, what Los Angeles and the world at large allows it to be. For the sake of the innocent life lost, including both of the men in the building that grew up probably dreaming of changing the world through their crafts (medicine at Yale and on-set of a major network show) lets not stop dreaming for them. Better education, better awareness and stronger, united advocacy for the understanding of our differences and issues – whether it be mental health, substances, social, security, education and access to the American dream. These events have envoked a strong sense of fear in the community and has created heart-ache for the proud parents and relatives of the men that were taken from the planet too soon.

    These moments should allow us all to reflect on life, eradicate fear and help to ease the pain by being productive and making a difference. I did appreciate seeing the West Hollywood city and Sheriffs department very clearly display counseling service and it seems understandable that they were quite aware of the potential public reaction that could be less than productive. The police officers involved will be burdened with the event that took place the rest of their lives and the system that put the ability to take lives in their hands will be tainted by another precedent of logistical overhead failure. This shouldn’t happen again, we all deserve to see plans and participate with civility in making sure it doesn’t happen in West Hollywood, a symbol greater than what the past few days has left us with.

  6. I think the cop who shot the innocent unarmed victim should be charged with manslaughter. If I was being held captive and got a chance to get away I would lunge out the front door too. Aren’t cops NOT suppose to shoot and kill unarmed people? McDonald isn’t responsible for the Murder but his actions instigated it and he should be held accountable as well as the trigger happy cop.

  7. Cino – So it’s clear, I too favor a detailed city overview of this incident, a strong response and an airing of the issues you and others have raised. We don’t disagree about that.

    I know from my own equally valid personal experience with the sheriff’s department that I find them, again based on what I’ve seen, as superior to those in LA proper as well as two other major cities in which I’ve lived. I also note the relatively low crime rate in this city, pretty amazing despite our basically being in the center of a major city. We are far better off than people living in adjacent LA neighborhoods. Crime stats prove that. The LASD (with whom I have zero relationship and no particular brief) deserves some credit for that, and if we are going to talk about wholesale change, then these facts need to be part of mix, as well as the important issues you and other have raised based on personal experience, and plus the obvious tragedy in this incident.

    For me the core questions that should be raised about this killing are
    1) Why were guns used in the first place (when there had been no reports of the perpetrator having a gun?) Is the training/mindset that guns are always the offensive method used?
    2) Doesn’t the fact that the first person out the door – clearly not a suspect – also shot suggest recklessness, even if the dynamic of the incident suggested that the dead man fit the description of the perpertrator and in the heat of the moment looked like he posed a threat to the first man?

    These for me are the two core questions that the LASD and the West Hollywood government owe all of us in reasonably short time, or at least show signs that they are addressing them

  8. Let me say this…most of the people posting on here DO NOT know each other, but there is a common theme running through this thread…VIOLENT, AGGRESSIVE Sheriff behavior.

    I know at least 4 people who have had the Sheriff do the same thing to them that was done to previous poster Joseph.

    And where are the people we voted in to run this city? Cuddled up with the thugs in uniform.

    A lot of people have been making serious accusations against these thugs for a long time…nothing done. Now we have a young man murdered in his prime…in the dirty name of the WEST HOLLYWOOD SHOOT’EM up SHERIFF Dept.

    Just sickening.

  9. I haven’t trusted the cops ANYWHERE in this city or county for quite a long time. There has been NO reform. They’ve been out of control for decades–look what they did to their own Chris Dorner when he cracked under their corruption, and how they over-reacted by shooting those two female newspaper deliverers. Same old, same old. More killings will follow . . . people are gonna NOT stand for this. Those cops returning to duty Monday? NEVER!!! Thjey need to be locked up and charged with murder and ARE guilty. Case closed.

  10. This is one of the most tragic stories I have heard since my arriving in WEHO in ’94. There is just so much horror in this story. It will take a long time and deep investigation to find out what happened…..if that is ever even going to be possible. What an absolute heartbreak that a victim was killed. I do not think the sheriffs went there with any intention other than to help. Seeing a bloody man charging and then another coming after him had to be terrifying for all involved.
    Everyone loses in this story. This is not the WEHO that I know.

  11. Just like all other cop shooting, nothin will be done about the police just shooting at will. This country has lost more people to police shootings the we have lost military in the war since 9/11. It’s sad to think your safer over there then some cop coming over and killing you or your family.

  12. will someone please hold these cops accountable??!! how can something like this happen and officers (people), human beings like the rest of us, but they have made a truly tragic error and cost a human life, not be held accountable to the full extent of the law? are they above the law? NO! is that what think??!! it is a shocking and horrific reality to have individuals in our police force who can make such a common sense god-awful error and get paid leave, and be considered fit for duty once more. put that officer in jail!! JUSTICE, WHERE IS THE JUSTICE. the officer who shot an innocent civilian so carelessly should be put through trial by jury and convicted of the same crime as any one of the rest of us. he is NOT above the law and it is an absolute slap in the face and embarrassment to the American public, and to the family and friends of John Winkler to let such a reckless event happen and not get justice from it. and of all things, they are trying to charge McDonald with murder even though it was the officer who shot and killed John Winkler. hold everyone accountable to his or her actions accordingly. will someone please stand up for this…

  13. Duncanroy makes a very valid and apt point.
    Even if the perpetrator had been the one killed this would have been a troubling story. That an unarmed victim was makes it worse. And then add that another victom was also shot – how did that happen? There could have been two deaths. And beyond that, it took almost 3 days for the details to be announced (they had to be aware the same night) and it apparently took almost that long for city officials to be informed.
    We aren’t going to get our own police department – you can’t create something like that from scratch. Nice concept, impossible to realize (and most of those recruited for the department would be from the exisiting employees).
    But clearly the city and its citizens need to find out what caused this overreaction (too weak a word for it). I understand the dynamics that were in play, the wrong information (two people, not four, one who matched the description). But are the officers adequately trained for this? And do they have the experience (it’s a good thing that most never fire their guns on duty).
    I do insist that the city do some heavy thinking on this and find out if, beyond the anecdotes here, there is a pattern that needs to be uncovered. The low incident of crime in this city is to their credit, and my personal contacts with the department have mostly been positive. But this is a wake-up call.

  14. This is a very American story. Cops shoot first and think later. They know they can get away with what ever they do… because Americans are brainwashed into buying into a violent police state. This sort of story is very common if you are a brown person. White gay people are unusually involved in this kind of story. Perhaps putting a white face as the face of police stupidity and brutality might make people question the actions of a willful police who are employed by us to serve and protect but actually do nothing of the sort.

  15. Its time to take it to the streets. We need to march on the Sheriffs department and demand that the Deputies who killed Winkler be removed from duty in WEHO and that the Captain in charge of WEHO station step down. We don’t need those cops back on our streets. they are scheduled to return to work on Monday. This is a very good opportunity to begin to make changes in our police force before another innocent life is taken. This is also a good opportunity for Larry Block to show some leadership. We have a new Sheriff coming in, we want to get off on the right foot with him and let him know we won’t take it anymore. I will be happy to participate in protests and marches. I live on Larrabee in the heart of it. I too was a victim of the Sheriff’s Deputies over reacting last July when my alarm went off and I couldn’t shut it off. Time Warner called the police and they showed up with guns drawn, put me on the floor, knee in my back, handcuffed me and put me in the back of a squad car for over 30 minutes while they “investigated”. My hand was paralyzed for 2 weeks because the handcuffs were too tight. They finally let me out when my partner came home and identified me.

  16. We all should be outraged that this innocent victim was murdered by incompetent LA Sheriffs. They are notorious for violent heavy handedness.

    This young man’s life must NOT be lost in vain.

    We must DEMAND our own Police Dept NOW!!!!!

  17. Joseph – Alex does get 100% responsibility because his horrific behavior caused the entire situation.

    But the issue with the LASD is entirely different. LASD, in the opinion of most locals (myself included), are hardly better than the murderers and thieves in the LA county jails. While the LAPD has gone to great lengths to act cautiously in the past decade and overall get high marks, the LASD continue to act like gangbanging thugs.

    The LASD needs to be reformed. Why is a progressive, wealthy city like West Hollywood policed by these animals? We should have a world class, educated police force like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.

  18. First Joseph here – so did Winkler and McDonald know each other from Seattle? Since they are both from Seattle?

  19. This is NOT the same Joseph as the 2nd Joseph poster calling WeHo Sheriff Latino haters and gay haters, I doubt they are, but WHSD need to be own up to their responsibility in this young mans death. It seems seems all too easy to blame 100% responsibility on Alex.

  20. I live at 939 Palm right about where it happened. My friend lives on the second floor and was looking outside his unit when the police arrived. John Winkler had been shot and was lying on the ground. My friend on the second floor saw the police fire 3 more rounds into him after he had already gone down. It is sad that Alex did this, but the murder charges should fall upon the police who did this. Shoot first and ask questions later is not a good motto. What were tasers invented for? Blow this up media. We need at least two people behind bars.

  21. Wondering where are all the cop-lovers that defend these trigger happy … when they kill people, shooting first and never asking questions later… As someone that has dealt with those individuals, it irks me when they are called ‘heroes’ and other crap just for doing their job (and very rarely they do it right). They are, actually, haters. They hate African-Americans, Latinos and, if you ever had any doubt, gays. They want us all gone or dead, and they are taking care of that with no consequences. The fact that our community won’t react, won’t ask for the firing of the real killer (the cop), and things wills be back to normal this weekend, shows what kind of community we are. Back in the 60s and 70s we would be all right now surrounding the sheriff’s station and causing trouble. Now… here we are, typing our sorrow and rage at home. Sad.

  22. The WeHo ‘Barney Fife’ bunch showed up at my apt. complex 2 years ago knocking on my door at 2am with guns in hand – then asked me to step out while they entered my apt without me giving them permission – a Gladys Kravitz neighbor called them hearing gun shots – then they leave saying just ‘sorry – later when I called him up the next day – Brian – the chief or whatever – he remembered me then lied to me saying that I gave OK – I knew he was lying and he knew it – he told me I should appreciate the fact they are watching over our block! Pathetic – I threatened to sue him and he pretty much dared me….have NO TRUST in WeHo Sheriffs at all…..remember the incident on Hayworth and SM Blvd about 3 years ago where the officer started firing on SM Blvd in midst of traffic???? Someone on the state level should investigate them.

  23. Sean, I don’t think holding two people hostage then suddenly hacking at them with a giant knife constitutes self-defense or innocence. The cops killing John is a completely separate issue that deserves a thorough investigation. But we can easily conclude from the facts that Alex was the aggressor and the criminal.

    It will be interesting to see what led him to “snap” or perhaps he was already insane. More information is needed.

  24. Sean – among the four people in the apartment, at least one was attacking the others with a knife. McDonalld of course is innocent until proven guilty, but I doubt he would have been charged without testimony from the other two. The reports are he was on top of another person holding a knife. Winkler was bleeding from the neck.
    Clearly the cops need to explain a lot more, but to suggest you know he was acting in self-defense or that he was somehow culpable seems premature to say the least.
    Again the law is that is someone – including the police – kill someone as a result of some criminal activity a he is involved them, a murder charge (not necessarily 1st degree) is possible. My non-expert opinion is that this charge might end up being dropped.
    If you have specific different details about what happened in the apartment, by all means share. First and foremost with the sheriff’s department, then with us.

  25. Are people stupid, these cops obviously killed the kid. How can you possibly charge Alex withmurder when he did not cause anyone’s death. THEY WERE IN HIS APARTMENT, THERE WERE THREE OF THEM. Alex is obviously the victim and was acting the self defense. Are the cops in la this stupid or are they so overzealous they’ll shoot anyone and are embarassed they’re shooting rich innocent white kids now to. Alex is innocent. They should charge the officers with murder. If anything hell beat all these charges. Free him now he did nothing.

    1. Wasn’t one of the victims Alex’s roommate? How are people
      Fleeing from an attacker acting aggressively Sean? You obviously don’t know the type of person that John is…he wouldn’t harm a fly, much less take part in attacking an individual with anyone!

  26. 1.1. First-degree murder in California law
    Under California law, there are three ways to be convicted of first-degree murder:
    1. by committing the murder
    1b. by lying in wait or by inflicting torture pursuant to Penal Code 206 PC California’s torture law,
    2. by killing in a way that is willful, deliberate, and premeditated, OR
    3. by way of the felony-murder rule (that is, by committing a specifically enumerated felony that automatically turns any logically related death into first-degree murder

  27. Victor – that is a typical charge. If someone is killed as part of a criminal action on someone’s part, including by the police, someone can be charged with murder. If someone robs a bank and a guard is killed, even if you’re not the one who did the shooting, then you can still be charged with murder.
    That is separate from whatever departmental charges or more than the deputies involved might be charged with.

  28. Where are those that were rushing to defend the use of gun fire for this incident!? You don’t show up to a knife fight with a gun and expect the results to end fairly, PERIOD. Weho is better than this and we need to make sure that we reign in the County PD as they are clearly out of control!

    From the reports I’ve seen from by-standards the culture/actions of those police perpetuated the idea that EVERYONE was a suspect. First of all, you are innocent until proven guilty. Secondly, you only use lethal force if you are actually under extreme threat. This is not a “stand your ground” city and we need to hold the cops to a very high level of scrutiny as they have the unions, power and money behind them.

    I hope this tragedy wakes the City up to police brutality, which is not just something that happens across La Brea, but can happen in the heart of WeHo.

    Another angel from WeHo is now gone forever because trigger happy cops with poor training and a culture for blood lust are allowed to roam our streets.

    I wish I were wrong about this but ….

  29. As a long time friend of John Winkler I am very saddened and angered to learn about such a tragic loss and careless conduct on behalf of the LA County Sheriffs Department. The continuum of force utilized in all law enforcement was completely disregarded! And where were the “less lethal” alternatives of force spoken about in the article? It seems that there was inadequate planning and execution by the sheriffs department which resulted in the loss of a great friend to all who knew him. RIP John, I pray that justice is served to all those involved in your tragic death!

  30. The cops shot the victims who were fleeing the attacker? Because one of the victims had a black shirt on? That seems outrageous. There was no sign of a weapon. WTF?!

  31. Not sure I believe that he died at the hospital. Three men wheeled out on stretchers faces exposed and the fourth was covered. Such a sad sad story to have watched unfold!

  32. This explains why this AM entered this as a murder, which made no sense under normal deputy-responsible shooting. I guess the murder charge is based on setting up circumstances that led to homicide.
    That the LASD has come forward with this is a good first step. Obviously, we deserve further answers and I hope and expect city officials will insist on this.
    The victim had recently moved to LA and gotten a job in TV production. The arrested man was a product designer, with a web site still active for his company.
    Very sad and very troubling.

  33. working in the substance abuse treatment field and having some personal experience witnessing drugged behavior on Palm Ave., this looks very much to me like either a Schizophrenic episode, a drug situation or both. There’s a serious drug problem in West Hollywood. It is shameful that we as a community and it’s leaders have put our heads in the ground about it. Yes, the Sheriff’s deputy who shot the person used very poor judgement and excessive force. They are trained to esculate force but it sounds like they started at the top. They should have been able to see if there was a weapon on either of the two who came out of the apartment and used pepper spray first. We don’t know anything at this point. They may have all been using drugs. So for anyone to call anyone innocent or guilty at this point with very little information is irresponsible.

  34. Complete shock that an innocent person lost his life in this tragic incident. I’m saddened.. and Wehoan would say when an innocent victim get confused as the assailant — this requires a full investigation and it requires better training when entering a residential apartment building. As posted in the the last article my employee was handcuffed and taken out of the building as a suspect.. this is a copy of his text to me an hour ago when he is suppose to be on the 4pm shift…’sorry, cant work today, too depressed, still shaken up from the other day, having nightmares, don’t think I can focus on work’ ‘

  35. This is maddening. The West Hollywood branch, like the rest of LASD, is clearly out of control. What is the City Council going to do to respond? I have absolutely ZERO faith in this department.

  36. Good reporting. Very strange story. From all accounts the perpetrator seemed like a normal, educated, family oriented young man. His last pictures on Twitter and Instagram show him on an outing in Malibu with a group of guys… perhaps the victims. The hashtags were love, change, thankful, and crew. How did that turn into murder and torture a few short hours later?

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