TORRANCE, Calif. (CNS) -- More than three years after the district attorney's office initially declined to file charges against them, two Torrance police officers were indicted in connection with the 2018 shooting death of a Black man who was found sitting inside a car that had been reported stolen, holding an air rifle.
An attorney for Officer Matthew Concannon said his client and Officer Anthony Chavez were indicted in connection with the death of 23-year-old Christopher DeAndre Mitchell.
In 2019, then-District Attorney Jackie Lacey's office declined to file any charges against the two officers, finding they were justified in using deadly force against Mitchell on Dec. 9, 2018. Mitchell was spotted in the parking lot of a supermarket inside a black Honda Civic that had been reported stolen.
"The evidence examined in this investigation shows that Mitchell was driving a stolen car. He was about to be detained for investigation of a possible grand theft auto," according to a charge-evaluation worksheet prepared by prosecutors at the time. "As the responding officers approached, they observed what they reasonably perceived to be a firearm in Mitchell's lap. Mitchell made movements toward the weapon ... Although the weapon was later determined to be an air rifle, the officers' belief that the weapon was a firearm was reasonable under the circumstances."
The shooting has been repeatedly criticized by Black Lives Matter activists, who held regular protests at Torrance City Council meetings for months following Mitchell's death. It was also cited in various protests aimed at Lacey, whom BLM protesters criticized as being unwilling to prosecute law enforcement officers.
Gascón vowed during his campaign to take a closer look at law enforcement shootings.
According to the 2019 D.A. review, a man flagged down Torrance police around 8 p.m. Dec. 9, 2018, near 220th Street and Western Avenue, saying his Civic had been stolen. A short time later, surveillance video captured the vehicle being pulled into a Ralphs parking lot on West Carson Street.
Chavez and Concannon pulled into the parking lot and used their patrol car to block the Honda in place.
The officers got out of their vehicle, approached the Honda and saw Mitchell in the driver's seat, the report said. The officers yelled "police" and told Mitchell to put his hands on the steering wheel, which -- after a moment's hesitation -- he did. Concannon opened the door, the report added. Mitchell, according to the report, dropped his hands into his lap and Concannon -- following Mitchell's movement -- saw what he thought was a firearm, the report said.
Concannon drew his gun and told Mitchell not to move. Mitchell, who police said later was believed to be a gang member, returned his hands to the wheel, apologized twice and then dropped his hands again.
Concannon, the report said, gripped his gun with both hands. But, according to body camera footage released later, it's not clear whether Mitchell dropped his hands a second time because Concannon blocked the view of his body-worn camera as he gripped the gun. The district attorney's report acknowledged this, too.
"Mitchell is not visible on the body-worn footage during the three seconds preceding the first shot," the report said, noting Concannon ordered Mitchell to get out of the car. "About one second after repeating that command, the first shot was fired." Three shots total were fired, one by Concannon and two by Chavez, according to the report.
Concannon and Chavez waited for backup and, after it was clear there was no further threat, officers attempted life-saving measures on Mitchell. But he died from his injuries.
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