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Activists seek change after K-town shooting

March 22, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A 27-year-old autistic man was fatally shot over the weekend by police officers who thought he was carrying a weapon. Community leaders are urging the LAPD to improve officer training.Community activists say Stephen Washington's death is a tragedy that never should have happened. They're calling on the LAPD to add additional training for officers in dealing with those who have autism and other developmental disabilities.

"It's better if the situation dictates and many situations do dictate that, to try to use other means other than deadly force. That wasn't the case for Stephen Eugene Washington, and we're all paying the price for that," said community activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson.

Washington was shot and killed shortly after midnight Saturday by two gang enforcement officers, as they tried to stop Washington along Vermont Avenue in Koreatown.

"The man advanced rapidly toward the officers while appearing to remove something from his front waistband area. With the belief that he was arming himself and in the defense of their lives, they discharged their duty weapons," said LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger.

Both officers fired, and one bullet hit Washington in the head. Family members say he was likely terrified and had no idea what was going on as he was learning disabled.

"Stephen wasn't a violent person. He was an autistic 27-year-old but with the mind frame of a 12-year-old," said Vickie Thompson, Washington's aunt.

Community activists said they hope renewed training for officers will help prevent another tragedy.

"Don't just assume that the person is a hardened criminal or even that the person is a criminal. There may be challenges," Hutchinson said.

The LAPD is promising a full investigation and a full disclosure. Washington's family said that all they want is the truth.