Friday, August 10, 2001
District Attorney’s Office Rejects Demand It Reopen Mitchell Probe, Says Report Was Thorough
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The District Attorney’s Office yesterday said its report on the fatal shooting of a mentally ill homeless woman by a Los Angeles police officer is so exhaustive there is no need to reopen the investigation despite demands by a community activist group and the lawyer for the woman’s family.
The 60-page report, released Tuesday, concluded that the witness testimony was too compromised to justify criminal investigation of the May 21, 1999 shooting of 55-year-old Margaret Mitchell by LAPD Officer Edward Larrigan. The officer shot and killed Mitchell after she allegedly charged at him with a screwdriver, threatening to kill him.
“Witnesses gave statements to police which were tape-recorded and a year later their stories were completely reversed,” Cooley spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said. “You can’t file a case on evidence like that.”
The absence of the District Attorney’s “Rollout” program, which dispatched deputy district attorneys and investigators to the scene to interview witnesses immediately, and intervention by Mitchell family attorney Leo Terrell, who advised witnesses against speaking with LAPD officers without his presence, contributed to the conflicting testimony, Cooley’s office said.
If prosecutors could have conducted interviews earlier and without interference, “not only would a clearer picture of the shooting emerged, but this office would have resolved the matter much sooner,” the report said.
Citing dissatisfaction with the decision not to file criminal charges against Larrigan and alleging broken campaign promises by District Attorney Steve Cooley, the National Alliance for Positive Action, a non-profit organization which promotes public policy changes, joined Terrell at a press conference yesterday to demand Cooley reopen the shooting investigation.
Placing three yellow carnations and a card which read “I love you,” at the scene of the shooting at 4th and La Brea, Terrell and National Alliance President Earl Ofari Hutchinson said they are exploring their legal options to force Cooley to re-examine the evidence and witness testimony.
Hutchinson, a nationally syndicated columnist and local radio talk show host, said he saw Margaret Mitchell numerous times near the area she was shot on his way to work and always thought she looked harmless.
“She was no bigger than a minute,” Hutchinson said. “How could she do anything?”
Hutchinson claimed Cooley appeared on his KPFK 90.7 FM radio show during last year’s election and said he disagreed with the way then-District Attorney Gil Garcetti was handling the Mitchell shooting investigation.
Hutchinson said Cooley also promised he would prosecute Larrigan if elected district attorney.
“To date nothing has been done,” Hutchinson said. “What we want to know, Steve Cooley, is did you just make these campaign promises to get elected and then forget about them once you were elected to office?”
Cooley was out of town attending a California district attorney’s conference in San Diego this week and could not be reached for comment, Gibbons said.
Terrell, who was blamed by the report for encumbering the investigation by filing a civil lawsuit on behalf of the Mitchell family, accused the District Attorney’s office of giving police officers special treatment.
“If you or I shot a homeless person over a shopping cart, we would be behind bars,” Terrell said. “This just goes to show that police officers get special treatment. He’ll probably be promoted.”
Terrell refuted the report’s accusations that he hindered the investigation.
“My role in this has been and still is to protect witnesses,” Terrell said. “And they call that an obstruction of justice.”
Terrell said he plans to write a letter to Cooley requesting the investigation be reopened.
Hutchinson and Terrell also called for action by the U.S. Attorney to publicly disclose whether civil rights charges will be filed in the shooting.
LAPD Officer Jason Lee said the department had received a copy of the report but declined to comment on it, saying the matter was in the District Attorney’s hands now.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company