Back in June of 2015, Walter DeLeon was strolling along Los Feliz Boulevard in Los Angeles, holding a gray towel his family claimed he always carried, when he decided to use it to wave over a policeman he saw driving by. But the police officer, Cairo Palacios, saw DeLeon’s towel as a threat and shot him in the head seconds upon arrival. There was no gun under DeLeon’s towel, or anywhere else on him for that matter. DeLeon was unresponsive, laying on the ground with his skull half-gone when the officer felt the need to handcuff him. Civilians standing by captured it all on camera. Almost two years later, DeLeon’s family still feels disgraced, claiming that justice hasn’t been served at all.
DeLeon survived, but lost his eyesight and can no longer walk. He’s also missing a significant section of his brain and skull. His attorneys believe that the officer who shot him contributed to his injuries when he straddled and hand-cuffed DeLeon after shooting him. Witnesses say blood was pouring from his eyes.
In April 2016, nearly a year after the incident, the Police Commission unanimously agreed that the shooting of Walter DeLeon was justified. Officer Palacios claims to have genuinely believed there was a gun beneath the towel and LAPD investigators retrieved several witnesses on scene that day who believed there had been a gun. This gave Palacios’ story the credibility it needed and the LAPD the evidence it needed to bury the case.
DeLeon is among many examples that pose the question of the whether or not police training needs to be examined and improved. He was one of 36 unarmed people who was either killed or severely injured by the LAPD that year. DeLeon’s sister, Yovanna, is his full-time caregiver now. She, alongside his lawyers, have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the LAPD. The objectives are for charges to be brought against Officer Palacios, for financial help for DeLeon’s family, and for pressure to be applied that will bring changes within the LAPD.
The lawsuit argues that DeLeon was, “a substantial distance from the officers and posed no threat when shot.” Mark Geragos, one of DeLeon’s attorneys, went to the media after the commission’s decision, saying that they’ve interviewed dozens of people whose recounts of that afternoon differ from the statements coming from the LAPD.
“There was absolutely no justification for the use of deadly force. None. He didn’t have a gun,” said Mark Geragos. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck submitted a report stating that a few minutes before DeLeon waved at police, someone called 911 and said, “a man just walked by me telling me to call 911 to let them know he is walking down the street and has a gun in his hand.” DeLeon’s attorneys have dispelled this as false information and are anxious to get the witnesses on the stand.
Officer Palacios recalls thinking, “I’m going to get hit soon. I’m going to get shot. I’m going to die here.'” Maybe it was a rash decision on Palacios’ part motivated by fear. Nonetheless, fear is a justification for use of force, according to the police code of conduct. Palacios’ attorney called the incident “unfortunate” but handled correctly as DeLeon’s suspicious activity made him a target. For now, Palacios has been removed from the field and demoted to an administrative role as a thorough investigation ensues.
After waking up from a coma, this is what DeLeon had to say, “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!” At this time, there is not an update on a decision for Walter DeLeon v. LAPD.