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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Libor Jany

Victim's family demands state investigation of LAPD after pursuit-turned-carjacking

LOS ANGELES — Nearly two weeks after her husband was dragged to his death after being carjacked by a suspect fleeing Los Angeles police, nothing makes sense to Gaynell Walker.

She can't understand why officers didn't move more quickly to arrest the suspect, who was sought in connection with two shootings, including a homicide in the West Valley. Had they done so, she says, they might have stopped the tragic chain of events that took Larry Walker's life.

Clutching a bevy of red, white and gold balloons, a group of family members, friends and colleagues gathered in a small parking lot near Los Angeles International Airport on Friday to mourn the 63-year-old father of three, while demanding to know why the ​Los Angeles Police Department hadn't apprehended the suspect before he attacked Walker and stole his car in South Los Angeles.

Speaking on behalf of members of Walker's family, community activist Najee Ali told reporters that they had petitioned state Attorney General Rob Bonta to launch an independent investigation into the incident, even as they weighed their legal options. Ali said that, while the blame for Walker's death certainly lay with the suspect, Joshua Reneau, police also bore some responsibility.

"We're here because we're outraged. We're outraged that Mr. Walker was killed by a carjacker [who] never should've been allowed to get into the car, because he was under surveillance by the LAPD," said Ali, his words occasionally swallowed up by the roar of landing airplanes overhead. "The LAPD saw him leave his residence, get into his car, and then engage in a pursuit. This pursuit tragically and unfortunately killed Mr. Walker."

Reneau, a 31-year-old Los Angeles resident, was being sought in a July 29 robbery in which an accomplice was fatally shot by a security guard in Reseda, police said.

Given the serious nature of those allegations, Ali questioned whether officers should have accounted for the danger of allowing Reneau to get into a car — recognizing that he would probably flee.

A message left with Bonta's office wasn't immediately returned on Tuesday.

LAPD spokesperson Capt. Kelly Muniz said in a statement Friday that the department was "deeply saddened by the death of Larry Walker, an innocent bystander." She added that the department was "committed to Reneau's prosecution and would continue to support the Walker family in any way we possibly can."

The incident is under investigation by the Multi-Discipline Collision Investigation Team, she said, and the findings would be reviewed by LAPD Chief Michel Moore.

"Any deviations from policy and procedure will be addressed at this time," she said.

According to the LAPD's account, Reneau was under surveillance by a fugitive pursuit team on Oct. 16 when he was seen leaving a home in the 5900 block of 7th Avenue, just north of Inglewood.

Plainclothes officers watched as Reneau got into the backseat of a Toyota Prius. They tried to pull it over, but the car sped away down residential streets, police said.

Police chased the car for several blocks, before it crashed near Florence and Haas avenues in Inglewood — less than two miles away.

As officers converged on the crashed vehicle, Reneau bailed out and tried to get away, police said. He then stole Walker's gray SUV, forcing Walker out of the driver's seat and speeding off, police said. But Walker became entangled in the seatbelt and was dragged underneath the vehicle for more than two miles.

Reneau crashed into several police cars before flipping over the stolen SUV at Florence and Prairie avenues, police said. Walker was pronounced dead at the scene.

Reneau, who was injured in the crash, kept officers in an hours-long standoff before surrendering.

He has been charged with murder for Walker's death. He also faces four counts of assault on a peace officer, two counts of carjacking, two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon and one count of fleeing a pursuing officer's vehicle causing death.

The driver of the Prius, Jamal Sutherland, 34, was later arrested on a felony evasion charge.

In an interview with The Times, Walker's relatives remembered him as a devoted family man, whose kindness extended to the people who sought treatment at one of several facilities he ran for those dealing with "different autism and behavioral issues."

Many of his patients were Army veterans, a source of pride for Walker, who came from a military family.

In college, the "self-professed country boy from Columbus (Ga.)" pledged Kappa Alpha Psi, drawn to the historically Black fraternity's public reputation for dapperness. That sense of style never left Walker, who always seemed to be dressed to the nines whenever he left his house, relatives say.

Gaynell Walker recalled how, eager to impress her early on in their relationship, her future husband insisted on picking her up in a limousine on their way to the Forum for Lakers games.

Jaime Walker said her father usually put others first. "My dad liked the finer things for other people [more] than he liked the finer things for himself," she said.

"They not only took a wonderful father, but they also took a pillar of our community," said Hope Davis, his sister-in-law. "I'm angry because not only did the perp take him away, but also the LAPD took him away."

Muniz said officers are supposed to weigh many variables in apprehending high-risk suspects, including those accused of murder: "Do you have time to grab him before they get into a car? If there are multiple people, do you have enough bodies to grab them?"

She said Moore would decide whether to make public any video of the incident, as he did after a high-speed pursuit in August in which officers chased a fleeing motorist who blew through a red light and killed two people.

The incidents have renewed an age-old debate about whether police pursuits are worth the risks, particularly on busy city streets.

In 2017, a grand jury in Los Angeles County openly questioned the dangers posed by pursuits led by the Los Angeles police and sheriff's departments. It followed a Times report that found that LAPD pursuits injured bystanders at more than twice the rate of other chases in the state.

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