FBI Investigates Shooting of Airman in California

The FBI has joined an investigation into the weekend shooting of an Air Force policeman outside Los Angeles. After a car chase, a sheriff's deputy fired at the unarmed airman, who in amateur videotape of the incident appears to be following orders to get off the ground.

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A 21-year-old Air Force security officer, just back from Iraq, is recovering from wounds he suffered when he was shot by a Deputy Sheriff. The incident happened in Chino, California, just outside Los Angeles, and was caught on videotape. Now the FBI is looking at those pictures to see why the deputy shot the young airman. NPR's Mandalit Del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, reporting:

The incident happened Sunday night after San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies chased a blue corvette going up to 100 miles an hour in a residential neighborhood. The car crashed into a backyard fence. Twenty-one-year-old Elio Carron (ph) was a passenger. What happened next was caught on videotape shot by a bystander.

(Soundbite of video tape)

Los Angeles TV station KTLA acquired the videotape and then shared it with other local news outlets. The pictures are grainy and the voices are sometimes difficult to make out, but there is a dialogue between the deputy and Carron, who was on the ground. Many who've seen the tape claim they heard the deputy telling the young airman get up, get up. As Carron appears to be following the order, that's when the shots ring out.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

BARCO: Carron suffered three serious but non-fatal wounds, in the leg, shoulder, and chest. His 19-year-old wife Mariella (ph) told reporters that the sheriff's department should fire the deputy who shot him and that prosecutors should file criminal charges. Sheriff's spokeswoman Jody Miller refused to name the deputy, but said only that he'd been on the force for more than ten years and has no record of complaints.

Ms. JODY MILLER (San Bernardino Sheriff's Department): The dialogue that went on between the deputy and the occupants is questionable and that's why we're asking for assistance.

BARCO: Miller says her department has asked the FBI to help with the investigation.

Ms. MILLER: Well, it's vital to know exactly what happened at the time. To know whether or not the deputy's commands were being followed, if they weren't being followed.

BARCO: Miller says the videotape will play a crucial role in determining what happened. A copy has been turned over to sheriff's investigators who are now analyzing the pictures and audio, hoping to learn more about why the deputy fired his weapon.

Mr. BRUCE BERG (California State University): The first time we played it sounded like he said get up. And then when we played it again, it sounded like he could have said don't get up.

BARCO: Bruce Berg is a Criminal Justice professor at Cal State Long Beach who trains police departments. He analyzed the tape for station KTLA.

Mr. BERG: It's not clear who's the mis-communicator. It's not clear if the deputy has actually misspoken, which is possible, given his state of probable tension and anger and adrenaline and the circumstances. Or if he spoke correctly, but he's misheard.

BARCO: Watching the tape, Berg says, the deputy could be reacted as Carron seems to be moving his hand.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

Mr. BERG: Now, he said get up and as he said that he did move his hand in towards his jacket. You've got a combination of possible things that he might have seen.

BARCO: Authorities say neither Carron nor the driver of the Corvette was armed and the airman faces no charges. The deputy has been put on leave while the shooting is under investigation.

Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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