Los Angeles Officers Shot at Ryan Twyman 34 Times. He Was One of Four They Killed That Day

By Sam Levin, The Guardian

Ryan Twyman in family photos. Illustration: Guardian Design

Ryan Twyman in family photos. Illustration: Guardian Design

Ryan Twyman was unarmed inside a parked car when two Los Angelessheriff deputies approached and fired 34 rounds.

Video of the entire incident, which happened in roughly 50 seconds, was as shocking as many police brutality cases that have gone viral in the US. But the killing of the 24-year-old father of three barely made the news.

On that day, his death was far from unique: officers across LA shot five people in five separate incidents in just over 24 hours. Only one person survived. Families and activists said the bloodshed on 6 June provided a terrifying illustration of the culture of police violence and a system that trains officers to kill – while ensuring they won’t face consequences.

“Nobody deserves to be treated like that,” Tommy Twyman, Ryan’s mother, said on a recent afternoon, recounting how her son liked to talk to her on the phone once a day, always a true “mama’s boy”. He loved sheltering dogs and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, she said. “You took something that I’m not gonna ever get back. You robbed me.”

Twyman was one of the more than 500 people who have been killed by on-duty officers in LA county or died in custody since 2013. That’s according to Black Lives Matter LA, which maintains detailed spreadsheets tracking deaths at the hands of local law enforcement.

Los Angeles has consistently ranked as one of America’s deadliest regions for police violence, with one analysisfinding that police shoot, on average, one person every five days. The county sheriff’s department (LASD) – which killed Twyman and polices millions of people in the LA area outside of city limits – has a troubled recordof brutality claims. Leading the department is Alex Villanueva, the elected sheriff sworn in last year and now mired in scandals, including over his reinstatement of a deputy previously fired for domestic violence and his collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice).

The FBI is also investigating a secret society of tattooed officers and other “gang-like groups” inside LASD – and whether deputies planted evidence and falsified reports.

“LA county sheriff’s deputies are emboldened by who the sheriff is,” said Melina Abdullah, a Black Lives Matter organizer who helps track killings and works with families. “There are gangs within the sheriff’s department.”

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On the streets of black and brown neighborhoods, this culture plays out in the form of harassment, racial profiling and abusive patrolling, critics said. LASD is known for having a “warrior mindset” instead of a “service or guardian mindset” in its treatment of citizens, said Alex Vitale, a Brooklyn College sociology professor.

Twyman was a frequent victim of this mentality, his family said.

“We call them the ‘jump out boys’,” said Chiquita Twyman, Ryan’s older sister. In Compton, a south LA city where Ryan lived, residents have grown accustomed to sheriff’s deputies driving around with their doors partially open – so they can jump out at any moment to confront, detain and arrest people on the street, she said.

“I never knew how much a black man could get pulled over until my son became a teenager,” said Tommy. “It never stopped.”

Charles Twyman, Ryan’s father, said the police harassment “becomes a way of life”, adding: “We’re used to it. They talk about gangs in the inner city. Who is the bigger gang?”

Police even treated Ryan like a criminal when he was once suffering from a seizure, suggesting he was on drugs instead of helping him, she said.

Sometimes, police would stop Ryan and eventually let him go, his mother said, after it became clear they had no reason to arrest him.

But his final encounter with law enforcement was different. It escalated so quickly he had no time for a conversation.

‘They came to assassinate’

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It was 7.30pm on 6 June when two LASD deputies drove up to the apartment complex in Willowbrook in south LA, a mile-and-a-half from Twyman’s home in Compton. It was still light out when two deputies got out of the car, with guns pointed at a parked Kia, according to surveillance footage releasedby the department, which did not include audio.

As the men approached on either side of the vehicle and opened one of the doors, the car appeared to reverse. Both deputies opened fire and continued shooting from a distance as the car rolled. One deputy returned to his vehicle, opened the trunk, grabbed a larger rifle – and continued shooting at the unmoving car in the distance.

Within roughly 30 seconds, the men had fired a total of about 34 rounds at Twyman in the driver’s seat, and a 22-year-old man in the passenger seat.

“They came to assassinate and kill,” said Chiquita, Ryan’s sister, saying she was particularly disturbed by the first five seconds of the video: “Watch the demeanor when they get out the car … They came there with intention to kill. They came there hunting for my brother.”

The sheriff’s department released the footage with lengthy narration that presented Twyman as a criminal and a threat.

“The vehicle was used as a weapon,” said the commander April Tardy, claiming one of the deputies was “struck” by the car door as Twyman “accelerated” the car in reverse, though in the video, the officer does not appear to be hit or lose his balance. He began firing, the captain continued, to “avoid being knocked down and run over”.

Twyman, who was shot in the upper torso and pronounced dead on the scene, was “under investigation” for illegal possession of weapons, and on probation after a gun possession conviction, Tardy said, adding that the department had been seeking to arrest him. She did not accuse him of any acts of violence. After the deputies finished shooting, they found no weapons in his car.

Letitia Lynex, Twyman’s aunt who lives nearby, rushed to the scene when she got word that something had happened. She said one officer initially told her a “deputy was down” and refused to provide more information, saying: “Google it.” Eventually, a crowd formed, demanding answers, prompting some officers to “draw their guns down on us as if we were criminals”, she said.

Twyman remained lifeless in his car for hours as his relatives showed up trying to figure out what happened. Police have continued to mistreat the family by driving past their house in Compton, stationing themselves outside during a family gathering, and showing up at the funeral, the relatives said.

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Olivia McDowellComment