An innocent victim was mistakenly shot to death by deputies who were responding to a report of a stabbing in West Hollywood earlier this week, the Sheriff’s Department acknowledged on Thursday.
John Winkler, 30, rushed out of an apartment behind another victim who was bleeding profusely from the neck and covered in blood, when deputies fired on both men, according to a sheriff’s news release.
The deputy-involved shooting occurred after a report of a “assault with a deadly weapon, man with a knife” at an apartment complex in the 900 block of Palm Avenue, a call that came in about 9:30 p.m. Monday, the news release stated.
When deputies got to the apartment, Winkler came running out, “lunging at the back” of another man also fleeing, the release said.
“Both ran directly at the deputies,” the release said. “Believing Winkler was the assailant and the assault was ongoing and he would attack the entry team; three deputies fired their duty weapons at him.”
Both men were hit by gunfire.
Winkler was a thin, white man wearing a black shirt and he matched a description of the stabber provided by witnesses, according to the release.
“The deputies perceived the wounded man was under continuous attack by the second individual,” Sheriff John Scott said at a Thursday evening news conference at sheriff’s headquarters in Monterey Park. “The deputies simultaneously fired a total of four rounds in the defense of the wounded man. The man in the black shirt felt motionless and soon expired.
After firing on the two men, deputies entered the apartment, finding 27-year-old Alexander McDonald allegedly choking and tearing at the face of another man on the floor of the living room. A large knife was nearby, the release stated.
Deputies used “physical force” to end the assault and take McDonald into custody.
McDonald allegedly held Winkler and the other two men captive at knifepoint, according to the release, then went into a rage and began stabbing them when deputies arrived.
Winkler was taken to a hospital, where he died, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which polices West Hollywood.
On his Facebook page, Winkler’s friends commented on his death.
“RIP brother you’ll be greatly missed,” one wrote.
Another friend said, “Even after his death, he can still fill the air with happiness because of the way he lived.”
At the evening news conference, sheriff’s officials said Winkler lived in a unit upstairs from where the stabbing occurred, and that all four men involved were friends who were “just hanging out” before the stabbing.
It was not clear what prompted the stabbing attack, sheriff’s Lt. Dave Coleman said.
“I have no doubt the entire Sheriff’s Department mourns the death of John Winkler, none more than the deputies involved,” Scott said at the news conference.
The other man who was shot by deputies was in stable condition after being treated for a gunshot wound to the leg and stab wounds to the neck, the release stated. The victim who was being assaulted inside the apartment when deputies entered was treated for minor injuries and released.
One victim was McDonald’s roommate; Winkler and the third man were visiting the apartment.
Winkler had moved to West Hollywood from Washington state within the last year and had recently been hired as a producer on the comedy show “Tosh.0,” the Los Angeles Times reported, citing Winkler’s friend Devin Richardson.
“It’s just a really sad story,” Richardson told the Times. “He basically went to help some neighbors and ends up getting shot.”
McDonald was charged with murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of torture, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. He pleaded not guilty in Airport Courthouse Thursday afternoon and was due to return to court on May 8, the DA’s office stated.
McDonald was being held on $4.12 million bail. He was being housed at the sheriff’s West Hollywood Station, online county inmate records showed.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Winkler had been bloody and stabbed in the neck when he ran from the apartment. In fact, the other man fleeing the apartment whom Winkler was close behind was bloody and stabbed. The story has been updated.