LAPD releases video of fatal Hollywood shooting of man with 'replica' gun

911 callers had described the man as "screaming and harassing people" with "what looks to be a pistol"


By Kevin Rector
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — A man holding a butane lighter with a pistol-like grip was fatally shot by two Los Angeles police officers on Hollywood Boulevard last month after they ran up on him with the belief that he had a gun and he raised the lighter in their direction, video of the shooting shows.

Prior to the shooting, a 911 caller had described the man, identified as 48-year-old Matthew James Sova, as "screaming and harassing people" with "what looks to be a pistol in his hand," according to a 911 recording that accompanied body-worn camera video released by the LAPD Sunday.

A still image taken from LAPD bodycam footage shows the moment before officers shot and killed a man who was holding what appeared to be a handgun, but was later determined to be a butane lighter.
A still image taken from LAPD bodycam footage shows the moment before officers shot and killed a man who was holding what appeared to be a handgun, but was later determined to be a butane lighter. (Los Angeles Police Department)

The shooting occurred about 11:20 a.m. on July 15, directly outside a McDonald's near the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. It sent tourists scattering from the scene and shut down the busy commercial corridor to pedestrian and vehicle traffic for hours.

The officers fired at least five rounds at Sova as three bystanders on the sidewalk watched from feet away, the video shows. As Sova slumped to the ground, he dropped the lighter while maintaining his grip on a black folding knife that he also had in his hand, it shows.

"Man, why?" said one of the officers just moments later, as he and his partner handcuffed Sova. The two officers were identified as Christopher Tabela and Isaiah Galvez.

Sova was pronounced dead at a local hospital. The shooting remains under investigation by the LAPD's Force Investigation Division, as well as by the office of California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta.

The LAPD had previously released still images from the incident showing that Sova had raised his arm in the direction of the officers at the time of the shooting, and showing that what police had initially described as a "replica handgun" in Sova's possession was really the butane lighter.

Activists have accused the officers involved of excessive force in the case, given Sova did not actually have a gun.

In her conversation with the 911 dispatcher, the initial caller had described what Sova was wearing, and said that he had "what looks to be a pistol in his hand."

"He's just like screaming and harassing people as he's walking," she said.

"He has it all in the open view, right, not inside the sweater or anything like that?" the dispatcher asked.

"No, yeah, he's holding it," the woman replied. "Holding it, walking around, playing with it."

The dispatcher then put out an alert to Hollywood units for a man "carrying a pistol" and "yelling and harassing" other people.

Surveillance footage, also released by police, shows Sova holding what looks to be the knife in the direction of a security guard in the area, while holding the lighter in his other hand, before continuing westbound along Hollywood Boulevard.

When the two LAPD officers arrived, they stopped their police vehicle in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard, near its intersection with North McCadden Place, jumped out and started running in Sova's direction, video from one officer's body-worn camera shows.

"Drop the f— gun!" one officer screamed. "Drop the gun!"

Within seconds, the officers were within feet of Sova.

"Careful, he's got a gun," one said, before they opened fire.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

©2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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