Unresolved Case: L.A. Sheriff’s Deputy Shoots Man in the Back, Two Years On

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Unresolved Case: L.A. Sheriff's Deputy Shoots Man in the Back, Two Years On

Los Angeles, November 17, 2023 

Two years have passed since Adrian Abelar found himself face-down on the pavement, a victim of a gunshot wound to the back inflicted by an L.A. County sheriff’s deputy. The incident, which occurred at a Rosemead auto body shop in October 2021, has left Abelar, the shop owner, and the deputy’s actions under scrutiny, with the case still open and unresolved.

Abelar, 27, survived the shooting but suffered multiple fractured vertebrae, narrowly avoiding paralysis or death. The repercussions, however, were not limited to him alone. The shop owner, Richard Doktor, claims his business faced severe consequences after the sheriff’s department identified him as the one who called the police. Threatening phone calls and graffiti branding him a “rat” now plague Doktor and his employees.

The lingering question remains: what will happen to Deputy Yen Liu?

The L.A. County sheriff’s department concluded its investigation just this month, handing over the case to the L.A. County prosecutors. Yet, the unusually protracted timeline of the investigation has raised concerns among officials. Abelar’s civil attorney, Thomas Beck, brought the case’s details to the district attorney’s attention in mid-October, prompting unease among officials who learned the case had yet to be presented for potential prosecution.

District Attorney George Gascón, who assumed office in 2020, has been proactive in filing charges against police officers accused of excessive force. However, the delay in Deputy Liu’s case has sparked questions about the thoroughness and pace of the investigation.

Liu’s case is notable for being one of the lengthiest deputy shooting investigations in recent sheriff’s department history. Since 2013, only four other cases had more than two years between the shooting and the district attorney’s decision on charges, as reported by the L.A. County Office of the Inspector General in 2021. Such delays, the report noted, diminish the likelihood of successful prosecution.

The office of district attorney declined to comment on the case, emphasizing the ongoing nature of the investigation. Sheriff’s Dept. Homicide Lt. Michael Gomez defended the time taken, stating, “Our primary objective is to always conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation to ensure all facts are presented.”

However, use-of-force experts have expressed concerns about the incident, questioning the justification behind the shooting. While Liu’s body-worn camera fell off before the shot was fired, footage from another deputy’s device clearly shows Abelar, unarmed and prone on the ground, being shot at point-blank range.

Ed Obayashi, a lawyer and former sheriff’s deputy, labeled the shooting as unjustified, pointing out that Abelar did not have a weapon in his hand when the deputy fired the shot.

In an interview, Abelar recounted the events leading to the shooting. Unaware of why sheriff’s deputies were approaching his car at J&R Auto in 2021, he recognized trouble when he saw their badges. Abelar, with a history of prior arrests, including domestic violence and weapons offenses, had failed to check in with his probation officer, and there was a gun in his waistband.

The deputies responded to a call from Doktor, who falsely claimed Abelar had an active murder warrant. Video footage contradicts Doktor’s allegations, showing Abelar having a calm conversation with the deputies before deciding to run, fearing the consequences of being found with a gun.

Despite the sheriff’s department’s portrayal of the incident as an “assault with a deadly weapon against a peace officer,” none of the deputies claimed Abelar pointed a gun at them. The video evidence also does not support such allegations.

Abelar’s civil attorney, Thomas Beck, believes the deputies were searching for a way to blame his client, asserting that Abelar is fortunate to be alive. Beck emphasizes the potential consequences had the bullet hit slightly differently.

As the investigation continues, Abelar grapples with the aftermath, experiencing anxiety at the sight of law enforcement. His lawyer contends that the shooting has left him unable to work, constantly in pain, and emotionally distressed.

Doktor, the shop owner, finds himself in the midst of the aftermath, facing threats and a decline in business. The case, shrouded in controversy, awaits resolution as it moves through the legal system, raising broader questions about police accountability and the use of force.

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