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DOWNEY - The Downey police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man after he fled from police acted in lawful self-defense and in defense of others, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office announced this week.
The DA report, signed by L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley, was released Tuesday, almost one year to the day that Michael Nida was killed after fleeing from officers.
The incident began at about 7:13 p.m. on Oct. 22 when a woman was robbed while using the Bank of America ATM at 7878 Imperial Highway. The woman gave conflicting suspect descriptions to police but the initial description included 2-3 black males in plaid shirts driving a white truck or car. The woman reported the men jumped over the fence at a nearby market.
Nida and his wife, Naily, had stopped at the Arco gas station on Paramount Boulevard and Imperial Highway on their way to dinner. As Naily pumped gas, Nida ran across the street to purchase cigarettes, according to the report.
At 7:41 p.m., a Downey police officer stopped Nida for jaywalking after noticing he "looked like a gang member" and was wearing a striped shirt, which can be mistaken for plaid, the report states. Nida was cooperative at first, sitting on the curb and even calling the officer "ma'am", but then, "suddenly and inexplicably," ran from Officer Blanca Reyes. He left behind the corduroy slippers he had been wearing.
"I got one running from me across Imperial and to the rear of Walgreens," Reyes broadcasted.
Nida ran across Imperial and through the Walgreens parking lot. A police officer spotted a male Hispanic - presumed to be Nida - in the backyard of a home, hiding behind a fence. Using his cell phone, Nida called his wife, telling her, "The cops are chasing me. I don't know why. I didn't do (expletive). I hate cops. I hate cops." The call disconnected.
Nida jumped over a wall where he was confronted by officers Steven Gilley and Michael Powell. They ordered Nida to the ground at gunpoint.
After hesitating, Nida got onto his stomach but refused commands to show his hands, the report says. Gilley stepped on Nida's back, using both hands to point an MP5 submachine gun. Gilley again ordered Nida to show his hands and threatened to "shoot or kill" him if he did "something stupid," to which Nida replied, "Go ahead and shoot me, go ahead and kill me," according to the report.
Nida then pushed up with his hands and got to his feet - a witness said Nida got into a prone position "like Superman" - causing Gilley to fall forward over Nida's shoulders. Nida ran towards Walgreens, where people were congregated.
Gilley fired his MP5 at Nida from 25 feet away. He later told investigators he could not remember if Nida turned to face him or Powell, or if he made any movements towards them.
"I'm thinking if he just robbed somebody at gunpoint...He's like a wild animal, fight or flight," Gilley told investigators. "What's he going to do to get away from us?"
Nida, wounded by gunfire, ran onto Paramount Boulevard, where he was struck by a car and fell to the ground.
Reyes, the officer who first encountered Nida, ran to him and noticed blood on his chest. She radioed "shots fired" and requested paramedics. Nida flailed his arms "attempting to get up" as Reyes held him down and patted him for weapons.
An autopsy revealed that Nida suffered four gunshot wounds, including two that entered the left side of the back and a third that entered the left tricep. The fourth wound was likely caused by one of the three other gunshots, according to the coroner. Marijuana was found in Nida's system.
"Gilley based his decision on what was known to him at the time and his fear Nida posed a threat to the public," the DA report states. "Given the rapidly evolving, dangerous situation that confronted Officer Gilley, we conclude that Officer Steven Gilley was justified in using deadly force to prevent Nida's escape.
"We are closing our file and will take no further action in this matter."
The report's conclusion didn't surprise Michael Nida's mother but it angered her nonetheless.
"Steve Cooley does not rule against police officers," Jean Thaxton said. "I don't believe you can have a DA that can make an unbiased ruling if they have ties to police or a police background."
Ten of Nida's family members and friends attended Tuesday's City Council meeting, where they accused the police department of racial profiling and lamented Nida's killing as unjustified.
"My son is dead and he's not coming back, so we're asking for changes in the police department," Thaxton said in the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting.
"Our lives are empty because he's gone and if you think the murder of our friend was justified - you'll find out how we feel about that in the coming weeks," said Hollydale resident Damion Ramirez.
Nida's biological father said he flew in from Missouri to speak at the council meeting.
"I wouldn't know Steve Gilley if he was standing next to me, but I know the fruits of his work. He killed my son," he said. "It's been deemed justified, but this isn't justice. My wounds were healing but with the release of this report they're busted wide open again."
Mayor Roger Brossmer offered condolences to the Nida family but referred questions to the district attorney due to pending civil litigation.
Terri Thaxton-Teramura, Michael Nida's sister, also addressed council members.
"I don't care what the DA report says, Steve Gilley is a murderer and a major liability to the city," she said. "I can't believe you still employ a murderer who has a record of using excessive force."
Thaxton-Teramura called Nida's killing "the ultimate injustice" and disputed the claim that he resembeled a gang member.
"He was a loving husband of 14 years with four beautiful children," she said.
Published: October 25, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 28