LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – For the first time ever, the Los Angeles Police Department has voluntarily released body camera footage in the death of a suspect, this under a new policy approved earlier this year which requires that such videos be released within 45 days of the incident.

In a news conference with Chief Charlie Beck Wednesday morning, the LAPD showed a 17-minute “Critical Incident Video,” a produced update on the death of 24-year-old Jose Chavez which, along with officer body camera footage of the arrest, included audio from a 911 call and narration from LAPD officials.

Body-cam footage of the arrest of Jose Chavez. (LAPD)

“We are exactly 45 days out,” Beck said. “This is the first one, so it took some crafting to get it to a place that we like, so we think that it tells a story, so that it includes pieces of evidence, not only video, but other pieces of evidence, so that it gives the public an insight into why the police department does what it has to do.”

Chavez died on the afternoon of May 6 after officers responded to a suspected prowler at a residence in the 4400 block of Towne Avenue in South L.A. Responding officers tried negotiating with Chavez for 30 minutes before using non-lethal force, including a taser and bean bag rounds, to take him into custody, police said.

The LAPD said Chavez, who has a criminal history, was swinging a metal dustpan and then a metal pipe. One clip showed him sniffing fumes from a gasoline container and pouring gas on his arms.

Shortly after officers detained Chavez, he stopped breathing. He was taken to a hospital, where he died. Beck on Wednesday told reporters that it is still awaiting the toxicology report from the coroner’s office to determine the cause of death.

“The use of force was a less-lethal use of force, and the cause of death is as yet unknown, because the coroner has not finished the toxicology piece of their report, which will probably reveal the details of their cause of death,” Beck said.

A few weeks after the death, Chavez’s family announced it was suing the LAPD over allegations of excessive force, claiming officers escalated the situation.

“We are probably going to find out that the actual use of force by the police department was not the immediate cause of death,” Beck said. “It will probably be something else. But, we don’t know that yet.”

At the time of the incident, police did not believe Chavez had a gun, but that he was armed in some way. However, no weapon of any kind was found at the scene.

Under the policy — approved by the L.A. Police Commission in March — video taken during shootings, in-custody deaths and other “critical” events would be released within 45 days. That applies to body cameras, in-car video, police facility surveillance video, drones and video in the department’s possession that was captured by third parties.

Beck acknowledged that, between the body cam and dash cam videos, there are more than 50 hours of footage. Beck, who is due to retire at the end of the month, said he expects the LAPD to release between 40 and 50 of these video per year.

“This one was not preselected,” Beck said. “This one happened to be the first one up in the timelines that we set with the police commission.”

Beck cautioned that the “Critical Incident Videos” are designed solely to give the public an update on a police confrontation, and they do not represent a final report judging officers’ actions.

Such final reports — known as “end of incident” reports — can take months to produce, can be several hundred of pages in length and will now include the Critical Incident Videos, Beck said.

The video released Wednesday was distilled from at least 50 hours of police videos, including body camera footage, and include a narration that guides the viewer through the chronology of an event.


(©2018 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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