Manslaughter trial begins for sheriff’s deputy charged in on-duty shooting

A prosecutor told jurors Wednesday that a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy fatally shot an unarmed man who posed no threat almost six years ago at a Norwalk gas station, while a defense attorney said the evidence will only support a verdict of acquittal for his client.

Luke Liu, now 42, is charged with voluntary manslaughter for the on-duty, Feb. 24, 2016, shooting of Francisco Garcia at a 7-Eleven at 10962 Alondra Blvd.

The 26-year-old man tried to drive away at what authorities have said was about 5 mph, was struck by four of the seven shots Liu fired—including two to the lower back and one each to the shoulder area and knee—and crashed into a sign at the station.

Liu pulled the man from the vehicle after the shooting and performed CPR on him before paramedics arrived, according to witnesses called during a May 2019 hearing in which Liu was ordered to stand trial.

Garcia died at a hospital.

Deputy District Attorney Chris Baker told the downtown Los Angeles jury in his opening statement that Garcia “didn’t deserve to die” but that Liu “shot him (Garcia) over and over again” after approaching the white 1993 Acura Integra that had been reported as stolen and was stopped at a gas station to fill up the car.

Garcia was unarmed, “posed no threat to anyone” and had nowhere to go but into rush-hour traffic that was “stopped dead,” the prosecutor said, adding that he believed the evidence would show that it was “unreasonable for the defendant to shoot Garcia.”

The deputy district attorney said the “evidence will not be able to explain why the defendant shot” Garcia, and that Liu subsequently provided “several different explanations,” including a claim that he had been struck by the car.

A doctor who examined Liu after he was taken to Long Beach Memorial Medical Center saw no bruising or injuries of any kind, Baker told jurors.

Liu’s attorney, Michael D. Schwartz, countered that what jurors had seen in the prosecutor’s opening statement was “not anything close to all the evidence.”

“You’re going to have to decide what actually happened,” he said, referring to surveillance videos showing different angles of portions of the deputy’s interaction with Garcia.

The defense attorney urged jurors to “keep an open mind,” telling them, “Things may not be what they seem at first.”

Schwartz told the jury that the defense is confident that the “one verdict that the evidence will support” is “not guilty.”

Sheriff’s officials said shortly after the shooting that the deputy was in fear for his life. They said then that the deputy suffered minor injuries when he was struck by the vehicle.

Liu, a more than 10-year veteran who was assigned to the Cerritos Sheriff’s Station, was placed on administrative leave in December 2018. His current status with the department was not immediately available.

Los Angeles County agreed in 2018 to pay Garcia’s family $1.75 million to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit.

The criminal case was filed against Liu in December 2018, marking the first prosecution of its type in the county in nearly two decades at the time.

In a statement released shortly after Liu was charged, then-Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said, “We believe the officer’s use of deadly force was unjustified and unreasonable under the circumstances.”

Lacey’s successor, District Attorney George Gascón has been more aggressive in charging law enforcement officials.

In August, he charged a Torrance police officer with excessive force for allegedly continuing to shoot at a knife-wielding man as he walked away from officers. In October, he charged a Baldwin Park police officer with assault based on accusations that he kicked a 16-year-old during an arrest and continued to assault him as he was placed into the back seat of a squad car.

Gascón has also filed a murder charge against a Long Beach Unified school safety officer accused of shooting 18-year-old Mona Rodriguez as she rode in a car driving away from the scene of a fight. Schwartz is also representing the now-fired officer charged in that case, Eddie F. Rodriguez.

Ex-school safety officer appears in court to face murder charge in young mother’s death

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