FBI to review police killing of sick woman

Homeless and mentally ill, victim allegedly lunged at officer with screwdriver

May 25, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES -- The FBI launched an investigation yesterday into last week's fatal shooting of a mentally ill homeless woman by a Los Angeles police officer.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Gennaco said he asked for the investigation to determine whether the Los Angeles Police Department officer used excessive force or violated the 54-year-old woman's civil rights.

"The allegations that have been made in this case warrant a federal investigation," Gennaco said.

Margaret Laverne Mitchell, a 5-foot-1-inch, 102-pound woman who had lived on the streets for the past several years, was shot once in the chest Friday after she allegedly lunged at an officer with a 13-inch screwdriver.

Several activists have questioned why the officer did not use nonlethal means, such as pepper spray, to subdue Mitchell, who police had stopped so they could ask whether she had stolen the shopping cart she was pushing.

LAPD officials said they are investigating the incident.

Yesterday, Mitchell's only child, Richard Mitchell of Long Beach, said his mother was never violent but had begun a slow, inexorable descent into mental illness about five years ago.

His mother, he said, had once been a bright, happy and articulate woman who loved to play golf and attend Sunday Mass. She raised him alone after his father died when he was a young boy.

Mitchell said his mother had heard voices in her head for years but resisted his attempts to persuade her to seek treatment.

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