Chief defends cops who didn’t use body cams in fatal shooting

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Video of the fatal shooting in the Gaslamp shows a man on the ground pointing something in the direction of a police officer. (Credit: Nicholas Wheeler)

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SAN DIEGO -- Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman came to the defense Wednesday of two  motorcycle officers who did not activate their uniform-worn cameras during an attempted enforcement stop that ended in the fatal shooting of a fugitive from the East Coast.

"I want everybody to understand -- this was a rapidly evolving and dynamic situation,'' Zimmerman said about the events that led to the death of Lamontez Jones, 39, at a Gaslamp District intersection on Tuesday afternoon.

Jones ran off when one of the traffic patrolmen tried to contact him about making a disturbance and interfering with traffic near Horton Plaza about 2 p.m., according to police.

Jones, the subject of an outstanding armed-robbery arrest warrant out of Virginia, fled to the south and east for several blocks, ignoring repeated orders to halt, Capt. David Nisleit said. At Sixth Avenue and F Street, the suspect allegedly turned toward his pursuers and pulled a pistol out of a backpack he was carrying.

Fearing for their lives, the officers opened fire on Jones, who fell onto the roadway, Nisleit said. The suspect then began to sit up and raise the weapon once more, prompting them to shoot him again, according to police.

Medics took Jones to UCSD Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The two involved officers, 25- and 30-year department veterans whose names have yet to be made public, told investigators had not turned on their body cameras because they simply did not have time, Nisleit said.

Department guidelines call on patrol personnel to activate the video and audio recording devices prior to most contacts with the public.

During a briefing early this afternoon, SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman said the two motorcycle officers did not violate the camera policy during the violent encounter, since the rule explicitly states that officer- and public- safety concerns trump use of the devices.

"When you’re looking down the barrel of a handgun officer safety, citizen safety whom we proudly serve is going take precedence," said Zimmerman.

The Chief said the traffic division was outfitted with the cameras in July and there is a learning curve.

"These are very veteran officers and to develop that muscle memory is going to take some time," said Zimmerman.

"The problem is it’s not a priority," said Chris Morris, Attorney.
Morris has prosecuted several cases involving police body cameras.  He was also the head of the criminal division under former City Attorney Mike Aguirre.  Morris said
"Cameras should have come on right when they began to interact apprehend, follow, chase, when they tried to contact this individual not when they're staring down the barrel of a gun," said Morris.
He said it all comes down to policy and what the San Diego Police Department needs is one with teeth.
"There has to be a punishment attached to non-compliance of the body cam policy," said Morris.
Nonetheless, department officials will review the policy with a mind toward possible improvements, according to Zimmerman. One such change possibly could involve a design change that allows for automatic activation of the cameras under certain circumstances, such as removal of an officer's gun from its holster, she said.

Jones was released from prison in Virginia early this year after serving several years for a manslaughter conviction, and arrived in San Diego on the lam only two days ago, Nisleit said.

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