Los Angeles, CA – A trial is underway in the case of a veteran Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot a suspect in 2016 after the man allegedly hit him with a stolen vehicle.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LACSD) Deputy Luke Liu, 42, faces up to 11 years in prison if he is convicted of the voluntary manslaughter charge filed against him in the death of 26-year-old Francisco Garcia, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Deputy Liu was originally charged with an additional gun enhancement, which would have potentially added up to 10 years to his sentence.
That charge was dropped as part of Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon’s sweeping policy change prohibiting prosecutors in his office from pursuing sentencing enhancements, the Los Angeles Times reported.
During opening arguments of Deputy Liu’s trial on Wednesday, prosecutors claimed Garcia posed no threat and was unarmed when the veteran deputy opened fire on him at a 7-Eleven gas station on Alondra Boulevard on Feb. 24, 2016, according to the Press Telegram.
Deputy Liu, who has served the LACSD for more than a decade, previously alleged Garcia hit him with the stolen vehicle, causing injuries to his thighs, knee, neck, and head, the Los Angeles Times reported.
He said he was in fear for his life when he opened fire, according to the Press Telegram.
But Deputy District Attorney Christopher Baker told jurors Wednesday that a doctor who examined Deputy Liu at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center after the fatal officer-involved shooting did not notice any signs of bruising or injury.
“He fired wildly at Garcia, killing him, and endangering the lives of innocent people who were sitting at the stoplight in the deputy’s line of fire,” Baker declared, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Michael Schwartz, the attorney representing Deputy Liu, told the jury that Baker did not present “anything close to all the evidence” pertaining to the case, the Press Telegram reported.
“You’re going to have to decide what actually happened,” Schwartz reminded them. “Things may not be what they seem at first.”
He said he is confident the evidence will prove Deputy Liu is not guilty.
Charges were filed against Deputy Liu in December of 2018, the Press Telegram reported.
“We believe the officer’s use of deadly force was unjustified and unreasonable under the circumstances,” then-Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey told KCBS at the time.
The fatal encounter occurred as Deputy Liu was patrolling near a Norwalk 7-Eleven store where a homicide had taken place the night before.
Schwartz said the lone deputy had been working nearly 16 hours straight when he noticed a white Acura Integra parked at the gas pump that matched the description of a vehicle that had been reported as stolen, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“He wasn’t sure if this person he was contacting who had stolen a car … was maybe a gang member who was coming back, in his words, to pay homage to his brethren or get revenge,” Schwartz told jurors on Wednesday.
Deputy Liu approached the driver, later identified as Garcia, as he was pumping fuel into the car, and asked him who the vehicle belonged to, according to KCBS.
“It’s none of your business,” Garcia allegedly replied, before he got into the Acura and started the engine.
While the deputy was running the vehicle’s license plate, Garcia allegedly reached into the backseat of the stolen vehicle.
Deputy Liu told investigators that he believed the suspect was possibly reaching for a weapon, so he drew his duty weapon and ordered him to shut off the car and show his hands.
That’s when Garcia allegedly stomped on the accelerator, slamming the car into the deputy’s legs.
The deputy fired seven rounds, four of which struck Garcia.
Garcia crashed the car into a brick wall nearby, and Deputy Liu performed CPR on him until emergency medical personnel arrived.
Garcia was rushed to a local hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
Investigators did not find any weapons inside the Acura, but did confirm that the vehicle had been stolen.
The entire altercation played out in approximately 20 seconds, prosecutors said.
“There is an inherent danger for law enforcement officers every time they put on the uniform,” Lacey said when the charges were filed in 2018, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We applaud their dedication and bravery to make split-second decisions in potentially life-threatening situations. But we also must hold them accountable when their conduct is unlawful.”
The county has already given Garcia’s family $1.75 million to settle their civil suit, KCBS reported.
Schwartz said the deputy believed his life and the lives of other citizens were at risk during the incident, and that he had no idea that he would face criminal charges until shortly before Lacey’s announcement, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The district attorney’s Justice System Integrity Division had the case since Jan. 31, 2017, according to KCBS.
“It came as a shock to my client and even his captain,” Schwartz said, referring to the voluntary manslaughter charge.
He described Deputy Liu as a hardworking, quiet deputy who has won several awards during his decade of service.
Deputy Liu was placed on administrative leave after he was charged and his current status with the LACSD is unclear, the Press Telegram reported.
The case against Deputy Liu marks the first time a law enforcement officer has faced trial for an on-duty officer-involved shooting in more than 20 years, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Over 1,500 shootings by officers with no charges,” Fair and Just Prosecution Executive Director Miriam Krinsky complained to the Los Angeles Times.
Prior to heading up the national group of far-left prosecutors, Krinsky was a federal prosecutor.
She said the charges against Deputy Liu are a step in the right direction.
“The fact that we do have a case where charges were pursued, where there is an endeavor to hold someone who wears the badge accountable in an on-duty shooting, is significant,” Krinsky told the Los Angeles Times. “If we’re going to restore public trust in law enforcement, we need to be willing to bring these cases to a jury.”
Schwartz told the paper that even though the “landscape” surrounding cases involving law enforcement officers has changed dramatically in recent years, he trusts politics won’t impact the outcome of the case.
“This case, like any case, has to be tried in a court of law. Not in a court of public opinion,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “If past cases have taught us anything … what’s in the media is rarely the entire story, or even an accurate story and accurate picture of what actually happened.”