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LBPD Chief Lance and Numerous High Ranking LB Officials Attend LB NAACP Meeting re Marcella Byrd Shooting

  • LB NAACP Presents Written Recommendations (we post them)
  • Chief Lance Describes Events In Emotion Packed Presentation
  • LA County D.A. Concludes Officers' Use of Lethal Force Was Justified Act of Self-Defense and Defense of Others (we post conclusion)

    NAACP Aug 18/02 meeting(August 21, 2002) -- In an emotion packed but orderly community meeting conducted by LB's NAACP branch, LBPD Chief Jerome Lance described the chain of events that culminated in the January 19, 2002 officer involved shooting death of Ms. Marcella Byrd.

    Ms. Byrd, a 57 year old LB resident, was wielding a knife and walking south on Pine Ave. toward 4th St. after earlier committing a theft at a local market when she was intercepted by police officers.

    Police say she was unresponsive to their commands. At 4th St. police attempted to use less than lethal bean bag rounds before Ms. Byrd allegedly raised the knife and officers fired, fatally wounding her.

    Only after the encounter did police learn she was schizophrenic.

    Chief Lance revealed at the meeting that the L.A. County District Attorneys office has concluded the officers' use of lethal force was a justified act of self-defense and defense of others. We post below excerpts of the D.A.'s report (separately obtained by us) as well as an LBPD synopsis of the Chief's statements.

    The LB NAACP presented its independently prepared report containing written recommendations by its Task Force appointed to examine the police response. We post the LB NAACP Task Force report, below.

    NAACP Aug 18/02 meetingThe August 18 meeting at the Cal Rec Center in the 1500 block of MLK Ave. was attended by LB's highest ranking officialdom (including the Mayor (in blue, in first row), several Councilmembers and City Manager), LB community activists from across the political spectrum...and members of Ms. Byrd's family.

    Chief Lance's presentation was preceded by remarks from 6th district Councilwoman Laura Richardson-Batts, 1st district Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal and LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill. Also attending (but not speaking) were 4th district Councilman Dennis Carroll, 7th district Councilwoman Tonia Reyes-Uranga, City Manager Henry Taboada and an array of LBPD brass.

    [ caveat:: Some words in our lengthy quoted excerpts may be inexact with extemporaneous speech and ambient sound sometimes difficult to discern.]

    NAACP Aug. 18 meetingCouncilwoman Richardson-Batts noted that now that the Police Department's report is ready on what took place, Chief Lance is releasing it first to the community, "not to the press, not to other people but he will speak first to the community to say what happened, what have we learned and what will we do better."

    NAACP Aug 18 meetingMayor O'Neill said, "This is a special city. It's a special city because we have meetings like this where people really want to work things out...It shows a maturity that many cities do not have in that the more we understand, the more we learn, the more we talk about our differences and our problems, the better our city is going to be, even stronger."

    The Mayor added, "I do have confidence in our police department. I have confidence in our police chief. I think that he is accessible. He is trying very hard to make sure that this community knows how important they are...The City of Long Beach is the most diverse community in the nation. This diversity was discussed and presented in newspapers, USA Today, and that's something that we're very proud of. It's something that we have learned to live together in a way that no other city in the United States has been able to accomplish, and that's a source of pride to us. But that doesn't mean that we have answered all the questions..."

  • NAACP Aug 18 meeting1st district Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal said, "I'm glad we're all in the same place...I would like to believe that we now have an opportunity to look at how the police handle people with mental illness..."

    LB NAACP branch president Naomi Rainey said LB's NAACP branch intended to monitor closely how its Task Force Recommendations were dealt with by City Hall. Ms. Rainey also indicated that "Angela [Byrd of the Byrd family] wanted to commend the NAACP for taking the leadership with the Task Force and her statement is she hopes that the Recommendations, whatever will be done, will help prevent the actions that occurred with her mother...hopefully we can be proactive in preventing [them] from happening again..."

    Community activists in attendance spanned the political spectrum. They included, among many others, John Deats, Sharon Cotrell and Dan Pressburg. Roughly four dozen people filled the room, in addition to LB and L.A. area media.

    NAACP Task Force Recommendations

    The LB NAACP Task Force recommendations were presented in a businesslike professional manner. Its recommendations are posted in full below. Some of its recommendations include:

  • Traditional use of force police training is augmented with training in an approach that has an emphasis on collaboration and mediation at the patrol level;
  • Video models used in use of force training reflect a diversity of suspcts and not focus on using 'ethnic minority' individuals in villain roles...
  • The Police Dept. increases the number of MET [mental evaluation team] personnel and extends its operatiuon to a 24 hour, 7 day a week schedule...
  • The Police Dept. should reconsider the negotiation process and the amount of time devoted to negotiating, bargaining and mediating with suspects who have mental illness or exhibit aberrant behavior.
  • The Department increases its community involvement by developing partnerships with community based organizations and groups, and that more members of the Department become more involved by attending meetings, community educational programs.
  • The City Council and the City Manager consider the establishment of a Police Review Board to provide more citizen oversight of the Department and provide citizens with a voice in policy development and in Police and community affairs
  • The Chief and his Command Staff present an annual or bi-annual "State of the Department Address" to the public on how it is serving and protecting the citizenry...
  • We have posted the LB NAACP Task Force written report on our web site at NAACP Task Force Report. [Caveat: 1.3 MB, lengthy download. To minimize download time, some public record appendix items are omitted.]

    Chief Lance remarks

    NAACP Aug 18 meetingChief Lance was introduced and noted his remarks would necessarily be circumscribed because litigation is now pending concerning the event. He delivered a police narrative with emotional intensity, describing the chain of events as they unfolded to his officers. Brief excerpts follow:

    "It is tragic anytime a person dies at the hands of another. My sympathy goes out to [the Byrd family], to her friends. But my heart also goes out to the officers who are affected by this very challenging and dynamic situation and did their best to assure the safety of this community..."

    "...As a result of the investigation, we've learned that Ms. Byrd suffered from mental illness. It was determined that at the time of her death, Ms. Byrd had apparently not taken her medication. Given this information, we can conclude that her behavior may have been attributed to her mental illness and that the lack of medication made things worse. Unfortunately, the officers in this situation did not know this, and did not have time to find this out...

    "...If [Ms. Byrd] she had taken her medication, if she had not been armed, if she had dropped the weapon, if she had talked to us, if she had simply stopped, or if she had not raised the knife to a throwing position, Ms. Byrd would likely be alive today.

    "Despite what you might see and believe on television, police officers go through an entire career, many of them, without ever firing their weapon. When an officer is forced to take a life to protect the community or themselves, that action makes an indelible impression on them. [becoming emotional] You never forget. [pauses roughly 30 seconds to fully regain composure, then continues]

    "...The simple fact is that neither weapons, nor...bullet proof vests, can stop an attack with a knife. Our officers had the duty and responsibility to protect the people on Pine Ave. from a knife wielding suspect. They attempted to do that impeding her progress south on Pine Ave., by keeping innocent bystanders away from the scene, and by repeatedly trying to get Ms. Byrd to talk to them, and to get her to stop and drop the knife...

    "Once again, I am truly sorry Ms. Byrd lost her life. I have sympathy for her family, for her friends, for the community. I also have sympathy for those officers who have to live with this for the rest of their lives.

    "We want to work with you, the members of the community, to learn from this incident. But more important, to improve the safety and quality of life for all people in Long Beach."

    LBPD also released to the media highlights of Chief Lance's remarks. We have posted them at: LBPD highlights of remarks by Chief Lance at August 18 NAACP meeting

    The audience received Chief Lance's presentation politely, but the subsequent Q&A a showed a number of audience members were not persuaded.

    One audience member called the official explanation a "whitewash" and accused Chief Lance of dehumanizing Ms. Byrd by calling her a suspect. Another audience member described the knife as only slightly longer than a pencil.

    Knife[To the right is the evidence photo of the knife.]

    Several questioners wondered why other alternative means besides bean bag rounds were not used, such as blankets to subdue disturbed subjects. Others doubted Ms. Byrd could have thrown the knife in a way that would have seriously injured the officers.

    District Attorney's conclusions has separately obtained (from the D.A.'s office) an eight page letter dated June 17, 2002 from L.A. County D.A. Steve Cooley, by Deputy D.A. Michael Kenneth Pettersen, to LBPD Chief Jerome Lance indicating that the "Justice System Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has completed its review of the January 19, 2002 fatal shooting of Marcella Byrd of by [LBPD officers]...We have concluded that the officers' use of lethal force was a justified act of self-defense and defense of others."

    The D.A.'s office concluded:

    That January morning, [the LBPD Sgt. on scene] found himself in the difficult position of having to make a rapid decision concerning if, and to what extent, he would be required to use force against Marcella Byrd. Standing on the corner of Pine Avenue and 4th Street with a large knife in her hand, Byrd was only an intersection away from an area that would have placed her in contact with a significant number of civilians. She had refused numerous orders to drop the weapon and surrender. Although it appeared that she was conscious of the officers presence, she did not yield to, or otherwise acknowledge, their orders. Faced with a threat of serious harm to the lives of numerous people, [the Sgt on scene]'s decision to use "less than lethal" force was both justified and lawful.

    The "less lethal" rounds did not carry their intended effect. Byrd seemed "unfazed" instead of yielding, she turned toward [the Sgt], standing a short distance away, and raised her right arm pointing the knife at him. Had she been successful in either throwing the knife at the officers, or attacking them with it, serious if not fatal injuries could have resulted. A reasonable person faced with the same set of events would have felt imminent danger and recognized the necessity for the use of deadly force. The shots fired by [three officers, not the Sgt.] were in lawful exercise of the right of self-defense and in defense of [the Sgt.]

    Having concluded that the [three officers who fired] acted in lawful self-defense and in defense of another when they shot Marcella Byrd, we are closing our file and will take no further action in this matter.

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