Last June, a Los Feliz, California resident was shot in the head by an LAPD officer while holding a water bottle and towel. A viral video of officers flipping the bleeding man over and handcuffing him after the shooting sparked national outrage, but media attention to the shooting has since died down. Now, Walter DeLeon, who survived the shooting but suffers from severe brain damage — hopes his story can lead to police reform.
DeLeon was in a coma for two weeks after the shooting. He lost an eye and hearing in one of his ears. He can no longer feed or dress himself, and he needs help using the restroom. His family also faces eviction, as they struggle to keep up with medical expenses.
In an interview with ABC 7, DeLeon explained that he saw two officers in their car and approached them for help. At the time he was carrying a water bottle and a towel to wipe sweat from his head. Moments later, he was shot in the head by Officer Cairo Palacios. Palacios and his partner claim DeLeon approached them with his arm extended, carrying an object that was covered with a towel. They exited the vehicle and ordered DeLeon to drop his gun, and Palacios fired when DeLeon did not follow their commands. He was then rolled over and handcuffed.
“How threatening can I be toward them with a bottle of water and a towel?” DeLeon said to ABC 7. “It’s like, wait a minute, it’s like shoot first and then ask questions later. Oh, he’s dead, he is not going to say anything. That is the model? That’s what they call ‘to protect and serve?’ Come on.”
DeLeon has difficulty remembering all of the details of the incident, but he is telling his story in the hope that it leads to changes in the department.
“It’s that my words are not said in vain. That something does happen. That there is some type of change in the police force,” he said. He believes officers need more training, but agrees that making on-the-spot decisions is difficult.
Watch the interview:
An investigation is expected to last three months, but DeLeon’s family plans to file a civil rights lawsuit against the LAPD. Palacios and his partner have been removed from the field and assigned to administrative duties.
Nearly 30 people have been shot by LAPD officers this year. The department has been criticized for the shootings of unarmed, homeless, and mentally ill people.
Early this month, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law requiring officers to document all of the excessive force cases that result in serious injury or death, as well as the race and ethnicity of all the people they stop.