TORRANCE, Calif. (KABC) -- Two Torrance police officers pleaded not guilty Monday to a voluntary manslaughter charge stemming from the 2018 shooting death of a Black man who was found sitting inside a car that had been reported stolen, holding an air rifle.
Matthew Concannon, 37, and Anthony Chavez, 34, entered their pleas through their attorneys in downtown Los Angeles. Both are due back in court May 15 for a pretrial hearing.
Bail for each was set at $100,000, which both Concannon and Chavez posted shortly after entering his plea. They plan to ask for the case to be dismissed.
The indictment of both officers was unsealed Monday. It was a dramatic reversal of fortune for the officers, coming three years after 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 23-year-old Christopher DeAndre 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.
District Attorney George Gascón, who vowed during his campaign to take a harder look at law enforcement use-of-force cases, reopened the investigation when he took office.
The officers say they pulled up behind Mitchell and told him to keep his hands on the steering wheel, and when he moved his hands, they opened fire. Whether or not they saw the air rifle, thinking it was a gun, is a key part of the case.
"We have to remember that this is what the police have said, and the police have been known to lie, and also that it is not illegal, if that was the case," said Sheila Bates of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles.
The shooting of Mitchell has been a frequent point of criticism of the police by Black Lives Matter activists, who have protested at Torrance City Council meetings following the killing.
Gascón didn't share specifics about the case, saying it's in the special prosecutor's hands, but he did provide a general opinion.
"For my own personal review, I question whether the officers were able to see the gun before the shooting. We know that even the prior review indicated that there was no evidence that he was even reaching for the gun," said. Gascón.
The lawyer for Concannon, in a statement to ABC7, said the charges brought against his client could only be brought if there was new evidence not known during the previous investigation into the shooting.
"There must be new evidence, but Mr. Gascon has repeatedly refused to provide it. Unless he can provide something new, this would appear to be a politically motivated and financially incentivized rank abuse of persecutorial power, and we very much look forward to our day in Court," the lawyer's statement read.
Chavez's attorney, Tom Yu, reiterated his client's frustration.
"To reopen a shooting that's already been cleared and closed, it's very frustrating," said Yu.
Mitchell's family says he was complying with orders to get out of his car when he was shot.
Mitchell's mother shared her thoughts following the court appearance Monday.
"We miss him so much. So everyone who has lost their children by the hands of the police department, stand strong, your time is coming next," said Sherlyn Haynes, Mitchell's mother.
City News Service contributed to this report.