Vargas: LAPD officers' split-second decision has tragic aftermath

By Joe Vargas

The Trader Joe’s shooting in Los Angeles this week captivated the nation. Even President Donald Trump tweeted about it.

An angry man shot his grandmother and girlfriend over what has been described as a trivial argument. The man then stole his grandmother’s car, kidnapped his girlfriend, and fled. The Los Angeles Police Department tracked him down and engaged in a terrifying vehicle pursuit where the suspect fled at high speeds and fired at officers. He ultimately crashed, disabling his vehicle, then ran into a Traders Joe’s market, gun in hand, firing at officers.

The Trader Joe’s shooting and hostage standoff in Los Angeles even attracted the attention of President Donald Trump.

The officers returned fire as the suspect ran into the grocery store. The man was firing at officers from the doorway. This led to an hours-long hostage standoff.

The man eventually surrendered, and in the aftermath it was determined that the 27-year-old store manager had been killed by an officer’s bullet.

There has been some question about whether the officers should have fired, given the circumstances. In an unprecedented act of transparency, the LAPD released both the in-car camera and body cam video of the incident.

In the video, the officers are calm and professional even under the stress of pursuing an armed suspect and being shot at. The video gives you a sense of the chaos and real danger the officers were facing. In an act of courage, they continued to engage the guy who was trying to kill them.

He’d already shown himself to be an immediate threat. Let’s face it, who shoots the grandmother who raised them? The man was dangerous.

Think for a moment about what you have to consider before you shoot. The man had already attempted to murder his family members. He tried to kill uniformed police officers. Now he’s run into a store and is shooting at officers while they return fire. The potential for the man to take hostages and harm others is immediate and real. And, according to my stopwatch, the officers had less than one second to make those decisions as the suspect exited the car while shooting.

The decision-making at this point is superhuman – way beyond the realm of any training scenario. The officers returned fire to stop the suspect. The results were tragic. A young woman lost her life.

LAPD Chief Michael Moore expressed his condolences to the woman’s family during a press conference.

“On behalf of myself and the rest of the department, I want to express my deepest condolences and sympathy to her family and everyone that knew her. I know that it’s every officer’s worst nightmare to hurt an innocent bystander during a violent engagement. I spoke with the officers this morning — they’re devastated. They were devastated in the immediate aftermath of this event…This is a heartbreaking reminder of the split second decisions officers must make every day,” Moore said.

Press Conference: : LAPD Chief Moore

Press Conference: : LAPD Chief Moore provides an update on the Officer-Involved Shooting that occurred in Northeast Division on July 21st

Posted by LAPD Headquarters on Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The responsibility for the harm caused by this incident rests solely with the suspect.

The destruction he wrought upon his own family, the police, and the community was entirely a result of his intentional decisions. The officers merely responded courageously, the best they could, given the circumstances they were facing. I, for one, don’t fault the officers’ decision making.

Joe is a retired police captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com.