Deputies at the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station have gone through several training exercises since the accidental shooting death of John Winkler and the serious injury to Liam Mulligan by deputies at 939 Palm Ave. in West Hollywood in April 2014. Winkler and Mulligan were shot by the deputies while they were fleeing an alleged knife attack by Alexander McDonald, Mulligan’s roommate at the Palm Avenue apartment building.
Capt. Holly Perez, commander of the West Hollywood station, provided information about the training in response to a request from WEHOville about what actions, if any, have been taken to ensure such accidents don’t recur. Perez took over as commander of the station in February from Capt. Gary Honings, who was in charge when the 939 Palm incident occurred.
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, which provides public safety services to West Hollywood, has refused to disclose the actual “corrective actions” it is supposed to have taken regarding the three deputies. All three — Michael Fairbanks, Byron Holloway and Gerardo Valdivia — are still working at the West Hollywood station.
Perez said disciplinary action, if any, cannot be disclosed under provisions of the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights. California has the most restrictive laws in the nation banning public access to police records, something that has come under criticism from lawyers, civil liberty advocates and journalists. “”It’s California’s dirty little secret.” Jim Chanin, a former ACLU attorney in San Francisco, said of the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights in an interview with the Orange County Register.
What is known is that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle claims by the family of Winkler and by Mulligan. After the investigation by its Justice Integrity Division, the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office decided not to prosecute the deputies, reasoning that the deputies should not be prosecuted because “California law permits the use of deadly force in self-defense or in the defense of others if it reasonably appears to the person claiming the right of self-defense or the defense of others that he actually and reasonably believed that he or others were in imminent danger of great bodily injury or death.”
However the investigation did note that a neighbor in the apartment building said she had shown the deputies photos of Winkler and of McDonald so that they could distinguish the attacker from his victim, something the deputies denied. That neighbor, Catherine Novis, recently told WEHOville that the deputies had confronted her with rifles in the hallway outside Mulligan’s apartment. McDonald has been arrested on a charge of murder, which apparently is justified because his attack resulted in the killing of Winkler by Deputy Valdivia.
While Perez was unable to reveal whether the three officers themselves have been disciplined or specifically re-trained, she said in an email to WEHOville: ” I have reviewed the case and ensured we have taken steps to improve the performance of all of our deputies here at West Hollywood. Public safety and perception are paramount to me and my administrative staff.”
Perez said that after the 939 Palm incident “then-Captain Honings ordered all deputies assigned to West Hollywood Station to attend an eight-hour ‘Safe & Smart Tactics’ training course that was developed and supervised by the West Hollywood Station training staff. The training included five real-life scenarios as a result of discussions with our Department’s Master Field Training Officers and Department Executives.
“The scenarios ranged from a high-risk, felony traffic stop, domestic violence call for service, handling a violent mentally ill person, as well as a rapid response to a man-with-a knife call, where the suspect was reported to be stabbing multiple victims in a crowded area. This training was designed to make deputies think about pre-planning tactics and the inherent risks involved in these types of incidents.”
Perez said deputies at the West Hollywood Station also have engaged in Tactics and Survival training (TAS). “This training is provided by the Sheriff’s Department Weapons Training Unit to deputy personnel and includes live fire scenarios using ‘simunitions’ weapons and ammunition,” Perez said in an email message to WEHOville. “These approved courses at its Situational Training Complex, known as ‘Laser Village,’ includes tactical strategies, review of recent field events and the unique opportunity to test new tactics and skills in challenging, realistic situations.
“All LASD deputies are additionally required by policy to attend weapons refresher/qualification with their on-duty weapon quarterly. This training or qualification requirement includes various shoot/don’t shoot scenarios, weapons firing, tactical re-loading, and low light conditions, to name just a few variables that are presented to our personnel. The deputies are graded on their response and ability to acquire/shoot the appropriate target.
“Before any LASD deputy is returned to field duty after a deputy-involved shooting, it is standard for the Department to make every attempt to ensure that the deputy’s physical and psychological needs have been addressed.”