Torrance police officers plead not guilty to manslaughter
By Terri Vermeulen Keith
Two Torrance police officers pleaded not guilty Monday to a voluntary manslaughter charge stemming from the 2018 shooting death of a Black man who was found sitting inside a car that had been reported stolen, holding an air rifle.
Matthew Concannon, 37, and Anthony Chavez, 34, entered their pleas through their attorneys in downtown Los Angeles. Both are due back in court May 15 for a pretrial hearing.
The indictment of both officers was unsealed Monday. It was a dramatic reversal of fortune for the officers, coming three years after then-District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office declined to file any charges against the two officers, finding they were justified in using deadly force against 23-year-old Christopher DeAndre Mitchell on Dec. 9, 2018. Mitchell was spotted in the parking lot of a supermarket inside a black Honda Civic that had been reported stolen.
District Attorney George Gascón, who vowed during his campaign to take a harder look at law enforcement use-of-force cases, reopened the investigation when he took office.
The shooting has been repeatedly criticized by Black Lives Matter activists, who held regular protests at Torrance City Council meetings for months following Mitchell’s death. It was also cited in various protests aimed at Lacey, whom BLM protesters criticized as being unwilling to prosecute law enforcement officers.
According to the 2019 review of the case by the District Attorney’s Office, a man flagged down Torrance police around 8 p.m. Dec. 9, 2018, near 220th Street and Western Avenue, saying his Civic had been stolen. A short time later, surveillance video captured the vehicle being pulled into a Ralphs parking lot on West Carson Street.
Chavez and Concannon pulled into the parking lot and used their patrol car to block the Honda in place.
The officers got out of their vehicle, approached the Honda and saw Mitchell in the driver’s seat, the report said. The officers yelled “police” and told Mitchell to put his hands on the steering wheel, which — after a moment’s hesitation — he did. Concannon opened the door, the report added. Mitchell, according to the report, dropped his hands into his lap and Concannon — following Mitchell’s movement — saw what he thought was a firearm, the report said.
Concannon drew his gun and told Mitchell not to move. Mitchell, who police said later was believed to be a gang member, returned his hands to the wheel, apologized twice and then dropped his hands again.
Concannon, the report said, gripped his gun with both hands. But, according to body camera footage released later, it’s not clear whether Mitchell dropped his hands a second time because Concannon blocked the view of his body-worn camera as he gripped the gun. The district attorney’s report acknowledged this, too.
“Mitchell is not visible on the body-worn footage during the three seconds preceding the first shot,” the report said, noting Concannon ordered Mitchell to get out of the car. “About one second after repeating that command, the first shot was fired.” Three shots total were fired, one by Concannon and two by Chavez, according to the report.
Concannon and Chavez waited for backup and, after it was clear there was no further threat, officers attempted life-saving measures on Mitchell. But he died from his injuries.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Concannon and Chavez were among 15 officers linked to a racist text message scandal in the Torrance Police Department, involving messages sent between 2018 and 2020. According to court papers, the messages included racist comments about Black people, Latinos, Jewish people and the LGBTQ community.