The family of an unarmed man fatally shot by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies earlier this month has rejected the department’s allegation he was using his vehicle as a weapon when deputies fired some 34 rounds.
The June 6 shooting has drawn outrage online and cries for justice from loved ones, activists and others in the South Los Angeles-area neighborhood of Willowbrook where Ryan Twyman, 24, was shot dead. But the department has told the public few details until releasing video of the shooting Thursday.
“After waking up this morning and watching this video, I have a clear view, opinion that my son was murdered,” his father, Charles Twyman, said during a news conference held hours after the video’s release.
Brian Dunn, the family’s attorney, said deputies violated standard protocol when they approached the white Kia sedan Twyman was inside with a friend and later shot several times — one of the deputies at one point going and getting a rifle from their patrol vehicle.
“We’re just asking for a fair and open, transparent investigation as to what happened to Ryan Twyman,” Compton Mayor Aja Brown told reporters.
The Twyman family has also filed a legal claim against L.A. County for damages while sheriff’s officials said the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is investigating.
The department released a statement later Thursday stating it is “aware of the lawsuit filed by the family of Mr. Ryan Twyman” and declining to comment further as the investigation continues.
“The loss of life is tragic and we understand the community’s concerns regarding this incident,” the statement reads.
A full autopsy report has not been released.
In the footage, the two responding deputies walk toward the car as it’s parked at an apartment complex near San Pedro and 132nd streets. One of them opens the rear passenger-side door and then the car starts to go in reverse.
Sheriff’s officials said the deputies approached Twyman because he was being investigated on suspicion of felony weapons charges and the vehicle matched a description. He was in the driver’s seat of the car.
As the car reverses, the rear passenger-side door hits the deputy still standing directly beside the vehicle and he begins running backward with the vehicle. At this point, the other deputy has begun firing toward the front of the vehicle while the deputy by the door begins shooting toward the passenger side.
Dunn criticized the deputy’s decision to keep firing even once he backs away and there’s some distance between him and the moving car. The deputy continued shooting toward the inside of the car while standing just a few feet away.
“By the time he’s out of the path of the vehicle, there’s no reason to continue using deadly force,” Dunn said. “He’s free. He’s safe. Nothing has happened to him. There is no danger to him.”
Still, the department has accused Twyman of using the vehicle as a weapon.
In narration over the video, Sheriff’s Department Cmdr. April Tardy says “deputies fired their service pistols at Mr. Twyman in order to stop the vehicle from injuring the passenger deputy.”
But Dunn said that decision violates common training procedures practiced by law enforcement.
“Police are trained to get out of the way. That is their training,” Dunn said. “Killing the driver will not stop the motion of the car.”
The white sedan continues rolling back as the deputies keeping firing, ending up in a parking stall. At that point, one of the deputies gets a rifle from the patrol car and stands alongside the other deputy with their firearms raised.
“This is because he is trying to shoot into that car with a bigger and stronger weapon,” Dunn said of the deputy’s decision to retrieve a “high-powered assault rifle.”
The attorney also criticized two other factors in the shooting — deputies shooting into the vehicle despite another person being inside and their handling of the situation from the start.
The passenger inside the car with Twyman, Deimeon Laffell, appeared at Thursday morning’s news conference but declined to speak publicly. Laffell survived the incident with only minor cuts from glass shattering inside the car as deputies fired.
“The deputies who fired into this car either tried to kill this man or had no regard for his life,” Dunn said.
Laffell was not under suspicion of any crime at the time of the incident. He was detained as Twyman was pronounced dead at the scene and later released.
According to sheriff’s officials, Twyman had previous felony weapons possession convictions and was under investigation by the department’s gang unit.
Since the stop involved a felon and investigation of such charges, Dunn said it would be considered a “high-risk” encounter that requires deputies speak over an intercom and slowly approach the vehicle.
In the days since the shooting, Twyman’s death has been “destroying” his family, his father said, explaining he has no answers for his grandson who has repeatedly asked for his father.
“I keep telling him that his father’s at work. He keeps asking me when is his father coming home,” Charles Twyman said. “My wife goes to bed crying, she wakes up crying.”
“He was human,” Twyman’s older sister, Chiquita, said as she broke into tears. “And we just want to see justice for Ryan. Because this isn’t the first one and it most definitely won’t be the last.”
Mayor Brown drew attention to the broader issue of police brutality, saying she “will not remain complacent in the assassinations and shootings of our humans in our communities.”
“We’re all human. This is not about a black and a brown issue,” Brown said. “This is a human issue. This young man will never come home to his children. His spouse will never touch his hand again. His mother will never hug him again. His father will never have a conversation with their son again.”
While Twyman had previous weapons convictions, Dunn said they only related to possession and Twyman had no violent history.
“There has never been any evidence that he shot one of those firearms,” Dunn said. “There has never been any evidence that he ever injured any person.”
The deputies involved in the shooting have not been identified and were assigned to administrative duties pending the results of an investigation.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva wrote in an Instagram post Thursday that he shared video of the shooting with Twyman’s family privately before releasing it to the public and expressed condolences to his family.
Meanwhile, Twyman’s supporters maintain the shooting was a preventable and unnecessary use of deadly force.
“There is no spin the Sheriff’s Department can put on the shots that were fired after the threat against them had indisputably ended,” Dunn said.