Los Angeles, CA – A 10-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has been charged with voluntary manslaughter in the 2016 officer-involved shooting of a suspect who hit him with a stolen vehicle.
“We believe the officer’s use of deadly force was unjustified and unreasonable under the circumstances,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey told KCBS on Tuesday.
The fatal encounter occurred on Feb. 24, 2016, as Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Luke Liu, 40, was patrolling near a Norwalk 7-Eleven store where a shooting had occurred the day prior.
The lone deputy then noticed a white Acura Integra parked at the gas pump, and believed it may have been the same vehicle that had been reported stolen.
Deputy Liu approached the driver, later identified as 26-year-old Francisco Garcia, as he was pumping fuel into the car, and asked him who the vehicle belonged to.
“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 reached into the backseat.
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.
Garcia then stomped on the accelerator, and slammed 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.
Deputy Liu was placed on administrative duties after the officer-involved shooting, and was suspended by his department on Monday, KCBS reported.
On Tuesday, Lacey’s office made no mention of Deputy Liu having been hit by the suspect’s vehicle, and alleged that the deputy was running alongside the Acura when he opened fire.
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, 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.
Deputy Liu’s attorney, Michael 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 very recently, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"It came as a shock to my client and even his captain,” Schwartz said.
He described Deputy Liu as a hardworking, quiet deputy who has won several awards during his decade of service.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said that the agency’s homicide investigators have been working with the district attorney’s Justice System Integrity Division, who has had the case since Jan. 31, 2017, according to KCBS.
“The LASD has complete confidence in the criminal justice system and the public we serve,” the statement read. “The facts will be presented, and the ultimate outcome of the case will be determined in a court of law.”
Deputy Liu turned himself in at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center on Tuesday morning, KCBS reported.
He subsequently pleaded not guilty to voluntary manslaughter and a special allegation that he personally and intentionally discharged a firearm.
Deputy Liu’s bond was set at $1.1 million, and the court scheduled his next appearance for Jan. 31, 2019, KTLA reported.
He faces up to 21 years in prison if convicted.