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Former L.A. County deputy charged with manslaughter in 2019 shooting

LA Times logo LA Times 3/3/2022 Alene Tchekmedyian

A former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy has been charged with voluntary manslaughter for killing an unarmed man as he tried to flee in a car, prosecutors said Thursday.

Andrew Lyons, who sheriff's officials said was fired from the Sheriff's Department after the 2019 shooting, also faces two counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm, according to the L.A. County district attorney's office. A second deputy involved in the shooting, Christopher Muse, was not charged.

The criminal charges, which are exceedingly rare in police shootings, were a result largely of videos from security cameras that clearly captured the brief, violent encounter between the deputies and 24-year-old Ryan Twyman.

“The family is surprised and overjoyed," said Brian Dunn, an attorney representing Twyman's family. "They had resigned themselves to the belief that once again the criminal justice system would not be there to honor their son’s life and to hear the news after all of these years reinforces a belief in the family that the justice system can actually work for them."

A few weeks before the June 6 shooting, gang investigators had found illegal guns during a search of Twyman's home when he was not there and had been searching for him, according to an account the Sheriff's Department released at the time. Investigators learned that Twyman drove a white Kia Forte and frequented an apartment complex in Willowbrook, the statement said.

The video footage shows Lyons and Muse pull into the parking lot, near East 132nd and South San Pedro streets, about 7:30 p.m. They draw their weapons and approach a parked vehicle with tinted windows that matched the description of Twyman's car.

While Lyons went to the driver's side, Muse walked to the rear passenger-side door, opened it and peered in. Twyman, who was inside, quickly started the car and began backing up, the video shows. Muse was struck by the open door and backpedaled as the door pushed him.

Lyons, who had moved to the front of the car, and Muse both opened fired and continued shooting as the car rolled backward in a slow circle before coming to a stop.

Lyons retrieved a rifle from his patrol car, took up a position behind a parked truck and continued shooting. In all, the deputies fired about 34 rounds at the car.

Twyman was hit multiple times and died. A passenger in the car was not injured.

The shooting appeared to violate a Sheriff's Department policy that instructs deputies not to fire at a moving vehicle or its occupants unless a person in the automobile is “imminently threatening a department member or another person present with deadly force by means other than the moving vehicle.”

The policy states that the vehicle itself “shall not presumptively constitute a threat that justifies the use of deadly force.”

L.A. County settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Twyman's family for $3.9 million in 2020. Sheriff Alex Villanueva said earlier this year that one of the deputies involved in the shooting had been terminated but did not specify which one. The other deputy was given a 30-day suspension, Villanueva said.

“Protecting public safety is the highest responsibility for the entire law enforcement community. That extends first and foremost to those sworn to protect it,” L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón said in a statement. “Policing is a difficult and trying job, but it does not excuse anyone from accountability under the law — especially when a human life is lost.”

The criminal case against Lyons is the second brought by Gascón against a police officer for an on-duty shooting. David Chandler, a Torrance police officer who had been linked to a scandal involving racist text messages exchanged by several officers, was charged last year with assault in a 2018 incident in which he shot and wounded a man armed with a knife as the man allegedly walked away from him.

Before that case, criminal charges were filed against a sheriff's deputy for a 2016 killing of an unarmed man, marking the first time in more than two decades that L.A. County prosecutors had tried to convict a law enforcement officer for a shooting. In November, Deputy Luke Liu was acquitted.

The charges against Lyons in Twyman's death come two months after Villanueva criticized Gascón for the time it was taking his office to decide whether to file charges against deputies in dozens of on-duty shootings dating to 2016.

Villanueva said there was "no excuse at all" for the slow pace, with prosecutors still reviewing one case each from 2016 and 2017, two cases from 2018 and a dozen from 2019, he said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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