Just the facts

Police Chief Rick Esteves knew his words would certainly be met with cynicism and skepticism, but sitting in his modest office in the Downey Police Department on Monday afternoon, Esteves offered his "sincere condolences" to the family and friends of Michael Nida, the South Gate resident shot and killed Saturday while running from a Downey police officer.Nida was 31 and would have turned 32 Tuesday. According to his mother, Nida was shot five times, including twice in the back. Here are the facts that are known thus far: •Nida was shot and killed by a Downey police officer. •Nida did not have a weapon. •The police officer fired his gun after Nida turned in an "aggressive manner." That's it. Those are the facts. Everything else is emotion and white noise. Reading from a statement that was to be released later Monday evening, Esteves said his department "understands the loss of human life is extremely tragic under any circumstance." Esteves could not say much more due to the ongoing investigation being conducted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. He declined to offer many details other than what's already been confirmed by sheriff's investigators. But speaking in general terms, Esteves said all Downey police officers are trained on an ongoing basis to use non-lethal force whenever possible. "There are some circumstances, however, where it can't be avoided," he said. The Downey Police Department has been cleared on all previous officer-involved shootings, Esteves added, both criminally and civilly. The police officer who shot Nida has been placed on paid administrative leave, standard protocol. He will not return to duty until assessed and cleared by a doctor. The officer remains unidentified but was not involved in any previous officer-involved shooting in Downey, Esteves confirmed. That was all the information the police chief was able to provide without interfering with the investigation. Even with limited facts, we know that critical to the sheriff's inquiry will be the officer's testimony: what he saw, heard and perceived. (Important to note is that an officer does not need to see a weapon in order to shoot. How many times have we read of a person shot by police after reaching for his waistband?) Nida's possible involvement in an ATM armed robbery just prior to his run-in with police is relevant only in that police officers were searching for a person reported to be armed with a gun. When police stopped Nida for questioning in front of the tobacco shop at Imperial Highway and Paramount Boulevard, they had to assume he had a weapon. When he ran, that must have heightened their suspicions more so. And why did Nida, a married father of four, twice run from police? Did he have a warrant? Drugs? Was he just scared of the cops? We don't know, but again, it's not critically important. Most important is what happened in that split second before the anonymous police officer opened fire on Nida. What, exactly, does it mean to turn in an "aggressive manner" and how does that warrant a shooting? The sheriff's investigation will be turned over to the Los Angeles District Attorney, which will determine if the shooting was justified. In the interim, Esteves said, "we must let justice take its course."

********** Published: October 27, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 28