LOS ANGELES (CN) –The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office charged an officer with manslaughter on Tuesday for shooting an unarmed driver during a 2016 traffic stop.
According to prosecutors, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Deputy Luke Liu, 40, shot Francisco Garcia at a gas station about 20 seconds after he pulled him over on Feb. 24, 2016.
Liu stopped Garcia because he thought he was driving a stolen car. Prosecutors say Liu walked around the car, but before he could get back to the driver’s side door, Garcia began to inch away at about 5 mph. That’s when Liu drew his gun, firing seven shots into the car. Four of those shots hit Garcia, killing him. Witnesses watched the traffic stop unravel, and the District Attorney’s office says video of the incident exists.
“There is an inherent danger for law enforcement officers every time they put on the uniform. We applaud their dedication and bravery to make split-second decisions in potentially life-threatening situations,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement. “But we also must hold them accountable when their conduct is unlawful.”
In addition to the voluntary manslaughter charge, Liu also faces a special allegation that he personally and intentionally fired his gun. If convicted, Liu could face 21 years in prison.
According to the sheriff’s department, which is investigating the shooting, Liu worked for the department for over 10 years before it placed him on administrative leave on Monday.
Homicide investigators presented the case to the DA’s office last January.
Such charges are uncommon – this is the first time prosecutors have charged an officer with felony voluntary manslaughter in almost 20 years.
The last time the District Attorney’s office charged an officer was in September 2000, when an LAPD officer shot an unarmed black man during a traffic stop. The officer received a five-year prison sentence.
Lacey was elected to the District Attorney’s office in 2012.