The California Department of Justice has announced that it will not pursue criminal charges against two LAPD officers involved in a fatal shooting in Pico-Union, Los Angeles. Samuel Soto, 53, was shot by officers on July 26, 2021, after an off-duty officer reported that Soto was bleeding from the neck and carrying a blade. However, subsequent investigations revealed discrepancies in the initial narrative provided by LAPD Chief Michel Moore.
According to a report released by the state Department of Justice, body-camera footage showed that Soto dropped the knife after being first shot by police and was unarmed when other officers shot him again minutes later. The DOJ’s investigation concluded that criminal charges were not appropriate in this case, as it could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers did not reasonably fear for their safety and the safety of others.
The probe, which included interviews with officers and witnesses, as well as a review of body-camera footage, highlighted the complexity of the situation. The arrival of backup officers and a low-flying police helicopter further intensified the already dangerous circumstances, hampering communication between the authorities.
Officer David Voci, one of the responding backup officers, fired the three final shots that struck Soto. In the body-camera footage, a first responding officer can be heard informing Voci that Soto was no longer armed with a knife but was holding a black object, later identified as a phone. Despite this information, Voci shot Soto when he took two steps towards him. The report absolved Voci of wrongdoing, stating that he reasonably, though mistakenly, believed Soto was armed and posed an imminent threat.
The DOJ also found that the low-flying helicopter created noise, making communication difficult and the scene more chaotic. As a result, the department recommended that the LAPD evaluate whether officers followed departmental policies regarding Tasers, as most officers lacked fully charged or functioning devices. Additionally, the DOJ suggested collaboration between the LAPD and the Los Angeles Fire Department to improve dispatch communication.
Officer Eduardo Martinez, who shot Soto when he ran towards him with a knife before backup arrived, also faced no charges due to insufficient evidence, according to the DOJ.