WeHo not a safe city? Not for grievers, no

April 14, 2014

Commentary by Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California

Heard a most counterintuitive statement last night.

West Hollywood is not safe, according to one man who left the Creative City for Hollywood many years ago. He may be right, at least as regards mourners, because he returned to WeHo to make the people gathered to remember Kurtland Ma and John Winkler feel decidedly unsafe.

Kurtland Ma and John Winkler were be commemorated by neighbors last night.

Kurtland Ma and John Winkler were be commemorated by neighbors last night.

First of all, I want to express my condolences to both sets of families and friends; beautiful and promising men just flowering have been cut down among us, and to you, the surviving who knew them, I extend my sympathies.

Secondly, I want to express my humble thanks to the people who showed up last night to commemorate  the lives of these two youths who most had never met.

Finally, I want to express my umbrage that the occasion was hijacked by an embittered person with a long-standing grudge against the Sheriff’s training procedures.

Although the group had gathered to carry candles and to commemorate two young lives snuffed out in separate acts of violence, Hollywood resident Gregory Mahan angrily soap-boxed his decades-long campaign against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Mr. Mahan repeatedly asserted that “You do not shoot unarmed people. You do not shoot unarmed perpetrators. You do not have license with the badge to simply not follow the law.”

John Winkler, who worked on the Comedy Central show Tosh.0, was shot and killed by the L.A. Sheriff's Department after being mistakenly identified as a crime suspect.

John Winkler, who worked on the Comedy Central show Tosh.0, was shot and killed by the L.A. Sheriff’s Department after being mistakenly identified as a crime suspect.

Well, law enforcement officers do actually have those rights; they are extremely circumscribed and, if they decide incorrectly in a matter of milliseconds and kill someone in the line of duty outside those rules they face imprisonment.

The most important of the reasons given by the United States Supreme Court that peace officers may shoot to kill might be the last one anyone has considered in this situation.

In Tennessee v. Garner, the Supreme Court ruled that it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment for police officers to use deadly force to stop fleeing felony suspects who are nonviolent and unarmed. However, the decision, also protected law enforcement officers acting to save lives.

The decision, written by Byron C. White, reads, “We conclude that such force may not be used unless it is necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”

It’s the last two words that make all the difference here. Mr. Mahan believes that all use of deadly force against an unarmed person should be forbidden, leaving unanswered people’s ability to wreak harm and death on others with their bare hands.

He failed to draw a direct line between his accusations that the three officers involved had been ill-trained, ill-managed and a product of a corrupt and perverted institution. I asked him repeatedly to explain how his accusations about the (well-documented) prisoner abuse in the jails had impacted the situation confronting the deputies last week.

Dr. Kurtland Ma had just moved to WeHo.

Dr. Kurtland Ma had just moved to WeHo.

I repeatedly asked him to justify his assertions with a fact, to which he repeated his judgments, that no deadly force should ever be used on an unarmed person.

He’s right, actually, about West Hollywood not being safe, but not the way he thinks.

It is not safe for people who wish to agitate without seeking solutions.

He left West Hollywood because he hates, he is angry, he is frustrated and agitated, and he has chosen this issue – deputy training – as his sword with which to fight injustice.

So you see, to me his refusal to even consider facts before utterly condemning all involved makes him unsuitable for life in West Hollywood. Asked if he knew the facts of the shootings, he said, “I know enough.”

Asked if he knew the last time a deputy-involved killing had happened in this, his ex-unsafe city (at least compared to Hollywood. Yeah, I’m still trying to get my head wrapped around that, too), he did not know.


Learning that the last incident was nine years prior, in 2005, moved him not; he went on a rant about deputy abuses in the jails and of how he once spoke to disgraced Sheriff Lee Baca (at a private function, no less), to give him his advice.

I have been seeing many comments on social media that castigate the deputies for shooting instead of using batons or other non-lethal methods. Few, if any, of those commenters know enough about the situation to make such claims. Mr. Mahan knew very little about the scene that he criticised.

Sheriffs deputies walk into many dangerous situations. Their first priority is the safety of the citizens they serve.

Sheriffs deputies walk into many dangerous situations. Their first priority is the safety of the citizens they serve.

I invite anyone of those commenters to face the situation the three deputies faced on April 7, with two men running down a corridor at them, the one pushing and shoving from the rear with his hands obscured but fitting the description of the knifing suspect.

The man in front is squirting blood from his throat; the blood has covered his torso. Nothing is said and they do not respond to your commands to drop. They are a mere six feet away.

Do you…

a) pull the trigger of the gun you already have conveniently pulled out of your holster, cocked and aimed at the general vicinity of the apartment’s egress?

sheriffsllideOr b) holster your service revolver, grab your baton, and use that to protect the victim and yourself from a possible knife of unknown length?

Or c) ) holster your service revolver, find your pepper spray to incapacitate the second man rushing out the door?

Sheriff training has deputies approaching an assailant wielding a deadly weapon, such as a knife or gun or ax, with service revolvers drawn. Is it responsible to ask them to put them back into their holsters if they cannot ascertain whether or not the attacker has a weapon or is intent on hurting others?

West Hollywood really did step up to the plate last night, and I truly wish that I could focus today on what makes this city so different from most others, its closeness, non-judgmental attitude and its neighborly-ness.

The people who attended hoping for one thing and who heard another, unseemly replacement, had the best of intents in their hearts.

Kurtland Ma, who by all accounts was an extraordinary individual and friend, or John Winkler, who had just embarked on his dream career, were kicked to the curb at their own candlelight vigil by outsiders and cranks wanting publicity for their agendas.

That is not West Hollywood. That is ugly.