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State clears LAPD officers in the fatal shooting of man on Hollywood Boulevard

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After a monthlong investigation, the state attorney general’s office cleared two Los Angeles police officers of criminal wrongdoing in the July 2021 shooting of a mentally ill man on a busy stretch of Hollywood Boulevard.

The findings were the first made by Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta’s office under a state law that requires the attorney general to review all fatal police shootings of unarmed people for possible criminal charges.

Officers Isaiah Galvez and Christopher Tabela had reason to believe their lives were in danger when they fired on Matthew James Sova, the review concluded.

Although neither officer agreed to be interviewed by state investigators, an earlier LAPD investigation found that they believed a metallic object in Sova’s hand was a gun and that he intended to kill them or others. .

It was later revealed that the object was a gold-plated butane lighter with a handle shaped like a pistol’s grip.

“ My office has determined that there is insufficient evidence to support criminal charges,” Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said in a statement that accompanied a report on the shooting. “But make no mistake: There is no scenario where the loss of someone’s life to violence is something we should accept as the normal course of things.”

The Los Angeles Police Commission had previously deemed that the officers’ use of deadly force was justified .

The incident occurred on the morning of July 15. After receiving a 911 call about a potentially armed man who was threatening people, officers encountered Sova walking along Hollywood Boulevard. A short foot chase ensued, and officers shot Sova, 48, outside a McDonald’s near the intersection of Hollywood and Highland Avenue.

The shooting drew condemnation and scrutiny from police accountability advocates when initial reports of Sova having a gun proved false.

Thursday’s finding was the first of its kind since Bonta’s office was mandated to investigate fatal police shootings under a state law that went into effect last July. Since then, the office has opened inquiries into about two dozen shootings by law enforcement agencies across the state, including four involving LAPD officers.

Investigators said that their probe involved “hundreds of hours of investigation,” based on dozens of witness interviews, as well as review of body-worn and surveillance camera footage of the incident . The report also detailed a timeline of the shooting, which showed that a couple called 911 to report a manwas “acting crazy and loudly saying a bunch of different things” while holding what appeared to be a gun.

The information that Sova was armed was aired several times over the police radio in the minutes leading up to the shooting, the report said.

As he got out of his patrol car, Galvez shouted “he’s got a gun!” and both officers repeatedly ordered Sova to “drop the gun” before firing, according to the report. Investigators found that Galvez initially intended to use a less-lethal weapon on Sova, but did not.

Investigators also spoke with Sova’s mother, who told them that her son had long struggled with his mental health. After a brief stay at a mental health facility in Michigan, he had moved back to Los Angeles, where she believed he was homeless and living on the streets. She said that she last spoke to him the day before the shooting.

The state’s report revealed that Sova had had 12 run-ins with law enforcement from August 2017 to January 2021, including 10 contacts with the LAPD’s mental health unit. On several occasions, the report says, Sova darted in front of passing firetrucks and police cruisers, and his actions were at times “characterized by irrational communication, aggressive delusional behavior, and paranoid tendencies.”

In his last contact with law enforcement, on Jan. 29, 2021, he was taken into custody and transported for treatment after being seen running in and out of traffic and trying to enter parked vehicles, investigators said.

Staff writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report.

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