DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy surrendered to authorities Tuesday morning on a voluntary manslaughter charge in connection with a fatal shooting of an unarmed driver at a Norwalk gas station nearly three years ago.
Deputy Luke Liu, 40, turned himself in at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown L.A., accompanied by his attorney. He plead not guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter and a special allegation that he personally and intentionally discharged a firearm.
Liu, a 10-year LASD veteran, was ordered held on $1.1 million bail. He was placed on administrative leave Monday by the sheriff’s department.
On the evening of Feb. 24, 2016, Liu was on patrol when he shot and killed 26-year-old Francisco Garcia at a 7-Eleven gas station in the area of Alondra Boulevard and Studebaker Road. Garcia was behind the wheel of a stolen car at the time.
L.A. County later settled a civil lawsuit with Garcia’s family for $1.75 million.
“We believe the officer’s use of deadly force was unjustified and unreasonable under the circumstances,” L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement Tuesday.
On the evening of Feb. 24, Liu was alone on duty when he spotted a white Acura Integra at the gas station which matched the description of a car which had been reported stolen, according to documents from the L.A. County Contract Cities Liability Trust Fund Claims Board.
Liu was patrolling the area because a man had been killed in the same area in a separate shooting the day before, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Liu attempted to speak to the driver, later identified as Garcia, while he was pumping gas, and asked him who owned the car. Garcia allegedly responded, “it’s none of your business,” and then got into the driver’s seat of the vehicle and started the engine, the documents read.
As Liu was radioing in a license plate check on the car, Garcia reached into the backseat, the county report states. Liu, afraid Garcia may be reaching for a gun, drew his own weapon and ordered Garcia to turn off the engine and show him his hands.
Garcia refused, instead accelerating forward, hitting the deputy, the report said. Liu responded by firing seven times at Garcia, the county report states. The car then careened into a brick wall.
However, in its news release Tuesday, the DA’s office made no mention regarding whether prosecutors believed Liu was hit by the moving car. Instead it alleged that Liu was running alongside the car, which was moving at around 5 miles per hour, when he fired the shots at Garcia.
Four of the seven shots struck Garcia, prosecutors said.
Only 20 seconds elapsed between when Liu first approached Garcia and when the shooting occurred, the DA’s office alleges. A portion of the incident was captured on surveillance video.
Liu attempted CPR on Garcia before paramedics arrived and rushed him to a hospital, where he later died.
No weapon was found in the vehicle, which was determined to have been stolen.
Following the shooting, Liu was taken off patrol. It’s unclear what his role at the department has been since that time.
If convicted as charged, he faces a maximum sentence of 21 years in state prison.
In a statement Tuesday, the sheriff’s department wrote:
“The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) is aware of the decision made by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office to file criminal charges against Deputy Luke Liu. Deputy Liu was placed on administrative leave on Monday, December 10, 2018, pending the outcome of the criminal investigation. He has been on the Department for more than 10 years and is assigned to the Cerritos Sheriff’s Station. Sheriff’s Homicide investigators have been working with the Justice System Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and initially presented the case to them on January 31, 2017. The LASD has complete confidence in the criminal justice system and the public we serve. The facts will be presented, and the ultimate outcome of the case will be determined in a court of law.”