Attorneys for the family of Dijon Kizzee say deputies did not try to deescalate or warn they would open fire before fatally shooting the 29-year-old Black man after chasing him down over a bicycle violation last month.
Of the 19 shots the Los Angeles County deputies fired, 15 struck Kizzee, including seven when his back was toward the deputies, said attorney Carl Douglas in sharing results of an independent autopsy.
“He was writhing on the ground in pain when officers opened up on him,” Douglas said at a news briefing Tuesday afternoon. “You can tell by the audio of the shooting that there were three or four shots and then a pause, and 15 additional shots followed after that.”
Douglas says witnesses and the autopsy confirmed Kizzee was not holding a gun in his hand when the bullets struck him. Deputies have alleged he picked up a pistol before being shot.
Several of the wounds could have been fatal but the 10th was the one that killed Kizzee, striking his left lung and causing it to fill with blood, Douglas said.
Kizzee died at the scene, but Douglas said it was not instant and the deputies were neglectful of performing life-saving measures.
“He was alive and bleeding and writhing in pain when the officers continued to stay away,” he said. “Too often, law enforcement officers misinterpret writhing in pain as some sort of active resistance.”
The lawyers spoke while surrounded by Kizzee’s family, many wearing face masks that said, “Justice for Dijon Kizzee.”
In sharing an update on its investigation last week, the Sheriff’s Department said county coroner’s officials had yet to complete their autopsy in the case.
Sheriff’s officials have given various versions of what exactly led up to deputies’ barrage of bullets.
Last Thursday, they said their investigation determined Kizzee picked up a gun before deputies opened fire. Before that, the department had said Kizzee “made a motion” toward a gun that dropped from a jacket as he fell to the ground. Initially, they only mentioned that the gun was dropped.
The deputies stopped Kizzee on Aug. 31 in the Westmont neighborhood of South L.A. for allegedly riding his bicycle on the wrong side of the street, near the corner of 110th Street and Budlong Avenue.
When Kizzee fell off his bike and went into the neighborhood, the deputies pursued him, sheriff’s Capt. Kent Wegener said.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the two deputies involved were a trainee and his training officer who were on patrol in the area. The legal team is asking for them to be publicly identified.
According to Douglas, traffic violations in the area where Kizzee was shot fall within the California Highway Patrol’s jurisdiction, not the Sheriff’s Department’s.
Grainy surveillance video shows Kizzee raised his arms while backing away from the deputies with clothing in his hands. A struggle ensued, but the exact sequence of events is difficult to make out in the footage. Deputies allege it shows Kizzee picked up a gun, even though that portion is obscured by a wall.
Attorney Ben Crump said Kizzee was killed for “riding a bicycle while Black,” part of a larger pattern in police brutality across America. Crump is involved in several other ongoing racial justice cases nationwide, including the shooting of Jacob Blake and killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“While America is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, we in Black America are dealing with the 1619 pandemic,” he said, referring to the year slaves first arrived in the U.S.
Crump called on L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to prosecute the deputies who killed Kizzee, saying justice for him could help disrupt the pattern.
“He tried to surrender to them,” Crump said. “He put his hands in the air, dropped the bag, and they continued to shoot him — even though he posed no threat.”
The attorneys say witnesses told them the deputies did not attempt to deescalate the situation or warn Kizzee that they would open fire.
Kizzee’s death sparked a wave of protests, largely outside the sheriff’s station in South L.A., where demonstrators say they’ve been met with harsh tactics from deputies.
The tension boiled over last weekend when two deputies were wounded in an ambush shooting in Compton, and the Sheriff’s Department later arrested a journalist reporting on a small protest outside the hospital where they were being treated.
Douglas alleged the deputies who killed Kizzee fired so many shots not because they perceived him as a threat, but because of a toxic culture within the department that made them think “that was what they had to do to maintain their integrity back in the office.”
“I can care less what Sheriff Villanueva says seeking to justify that lack of humanity,” he said.
Douglas says he was raised half a mile from the scene where deputies killed Kizzee, and the case supports allegations that violent gangs of deputies hold sway over sheriff’s stations.
“Officers are riding up and down 109th Street now, taunting the residents there,” Douglas said. “There’s a gang problem alright, but the gang wears khaki and green, and also patrols our neighborhoods.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described how the Sheriff’s Department had characterized Kizzee’s interaction with deputies before they opened fire on him. The department has offered several versions of events, saying he dropped a gun from a bundle of clothing, then that he made a motion toward the gun, then that he picked up the gun. The department has not said he fired the weapon. The story has been updated.