A San Bernardino County jury Thursday acquitted a former sheriff's deputy of attempted voluntary manslaughter for opening fire on an unarmed, off-duty Air Force police officer after a high-speed chase last year, a brutal shooting videotaped by a bystander and aired nationwide.
Ivory John Webb Jr., 46, the son of a former Compton, Calif.,
police chief, was the first law enforcement officer ever to face
criminal charges for an on-duty shooting in San Bernardino County
in Southern California. Webb, who also was acquitted of assault
with a deadly firearm, faced up to an 18-year prison sentence.
The jury of eight men and four women had spent less than half a day deliberating after the four-week trial in the San Bernardino courtroom, a case dominated by the video footage of the January 2006 shooting on a residential street in Chino, Calif., and dueling experts on police tactics and use of deadly force.
The prosecution's case focused on 1 minute, 15 seconds of raw, shadowy video, recorded about 10:30 p.m. Jan. 29, 2006, that showed Webb towering over Elio Carrion and then opening fire as Carrion appeared to be following his order to get up from a sprawled position on the pavement.
Carrion survived the shooting and is on duty at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
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Carrion, a 23-year-old senior airman who was home on leave after a six-month tour in Iraq, had been a passenger in a Corvette that led Webb on a chase that reached 120 mph through residential neighborhoods, ending when the car crashed into a block wall and Carrion jumped out of the car and onto the ground.
In the video, Carrion is seen raising his left hand toward Webb at least twice and then Carrion appears to use his right hand to gesture as he tells Webb several times, "We're here on your side" and "We mean you no harm." Webb tells Carrion to keep his hands on the ground and then appears to tell Carrion to "get up." When Carrion says, "OK, I'm getting up," and starts to rise, Webb shoots him three times.
Prosecutor R. Lewis Cope also leaned heavily on police tactics experts, arguing the tape showed an angry deputy whose repeated tactical errors led him to fire on Carrion without provocation, including Webb's failure to wait for backup to arrive.
Lead tactics expert Joe Callanan, a former Los Angeles County sheriff's lieutenant who trained officers on the use of force during 22 years with the department, said Webb engaged in "extraordinarily risky" behavior and shouldn't have left the safety of his patrol car.
During his testimony, Callanan also insinuated that Webb's decision to fire his weapon was a "deliberate" act -- not a panicked response -- because the deputy paused for at least a half-second between each of the three shots he fired.
"Rapid fire is more typical of panic situation. Timed fire is more deliberate, more thoughtful," Callanan testified.
However, an expert witness for the defense told jurors that Webb was clearly justified in shooting because, as the video recording showed, Carrion ignored commands to keep his hands on the ground and appeared to reach into his Oakland Raiders jacket for a weapon just before the deputy opened fire.
"There were a couple of times where (Webb) would have been justified in firing," Inglewood (Calif.) Police Sgt. Kent Ferrin testified. "He showed great restraint." Webb's lead attorney, Michael Schwartz, hammered Carrion's credibility, arguing that Carrion was not a heroic Iraq veteran portrayed in the media but a "nameless, faceless suspect" who endangered Webb's life and the lives of others by failing to stop his drunk friend from leading police at more than 100 mph through residential streets.
Schwartz accused Carrion of intentionally misleading the jury about how drunk he was on the night of the shooting.
He argued a military policeman like Carrion should have known better than to argue with a police officer and disobey commands to stop talking and keep his hands on the ground when he was being held at gunpoint.
Schwartz argued that Webb fired in self-defense not just because of one movement by Carrion, but because of a combination of threatening movements that followed a pattern of noncompliance by the airman.
Webb, the only officer present during the shooting, initially told detectives that Carrion had lunged at him after ignoring orders to stay on the ground.
Several days later, after watching a clip of the video, the 46-year-old former deputy told detectives he believed Carrion was reaching for a weapon when he fired.
During the trial, the prosecutor seized on those conflicting statements, saying it showed Webb initially tried to deceive investigators and then was forced to change his story when he realized the shooting was caught on tape.
Webb's attorney dismissed the prosecutor's claims that Webb made conflicting statements to investigators, arguing that Webb's description of what happened in a two-hour interview after the shooting was supported by what was seen in the videotape.
Not every statement uttered that night, Schwartz said, can be heard on the videotape. He said even the transcript of the muddied voices on videotape was in dispute.