Family Claims Killing of Black Grandfather at Long Beach Family Reunion Was Racially Motivated, But Police Say Evidence Is Lacking
Although relatives of a Long Beach man shot dead during a family reunion at a Long Beach park insist his slaying is a hate crime, police said Thursday they have not gathered evidence to substantiate that claim.
Fred Taft, 57, was fatally shot when he went to use the restrooms at Pan American Park during the July 21 gathering. The gunman, described by police only as a white man, remains at large.
Last weekend, Taft’s family was joined by community leaders at the park as they called for his death to be investigated as racially motivated. Relatives say evidence and circumstances surrounding the incident, including racist graffiti found at the park, indicate animus toward black people.
“He literally was here celebrating life with his family, went in the use the restroom and some man — that is actually right now defined as a white male — went, shot him in the back of the head, then ran away,” Taft’s niece, Medell Briggs-Malonson, told KTLA during the event.
The victim’s nephew told the Los Angeles Times about 45 people attended the family reunion, most of them African American. A friend of Taft’s who was there told the newspaper she saw a man walking out of the bathroom with a rifle, and she believes he was there “on a mission to kill.”
But in a news release issued Thursday, the Police Department said it would “not classify a criminal act as a hate crime unless there is evidence present that meets this legal standard.”
So far, investigators have not determined a motive.
The department said it has assigned additional patrols to the Centralia Avenue park and surrounding neighborhood to monitor “any unusual or criminal activity.” Detectives have also been canvassing the area for witnesses and surveillance footage, police said.
“We are respectful of the elevated community concerns after such a violent incident,” the release stated, noting that updates in the case would be posted to the department’s social media accounts.
Anyone with information on the case can contact homicide detectives M. Hubbard and A. Garcia at 562-570-7244.