Video: Calif. LEO shoots, injures protester in forehead with beanbag

The 59-year-old sustained skull fractures and a loss of vision in one eye, according to her family and attorney


By Alex Riggins, David Hernandez
The San Diego Union-Tribune

LA MESA, Calif. — Police on Wednesday released footage that appears to show protester Leslie Furcron throwing an object just before a detective shot her in the head with a beanbag during a May 30 protest that turned riotous outside the La Mesa Police Department headquarters.

The shot left Furcron — a 59-year-old Black grandmother, who had joined the demonstration against police violence just minutes earlier — with skull fractures and a loss of vision in one eye, according to her, her family and her attorney.

She spent at least two days in a medically induced coma in the ICU, and more than a week in a hospital.

According to police, Furcron threw the unidentified object toward county sheriff's deputies, who are not visible in the footage. The La Mesa police detective who shot her was positioned in a different direction from the deputies.

Furcron's attorney, Dante Pride, said the video released by police does not change his view that the shooting was an unjustified, excessive use of force.

"It's a can thrown by a (59)-year-old woman," Pride said Wednesday. "She threw something. That's not something she should have been shot for."

The release of the footage comes six days after Furcron filed a claim against the city alleging the officer who shot her used excessive force.

She also took the city and Police Department to court in late June when she filed a petition in an effort to force the release of the officer's name. The department had withheld the officer's name, citing the ongoing investigation into the shooting, as well as concerns over the officer's safety.

On Wednesday, police Chief Walt Vasquez identified him as Detective Eric Knudsen, who has been on the force for 12 years and is now on on paid administrative leave.

Vasquez had said previously that the investigation into the shooting would include an "in-depth" look at the Police Department's crowd-control practices. The chief did not address crowd-control tactics Wednesday, when officials released a video statement from him, footage from two body-worn cameras and a "critical incident video" that spliced together several video sources.

"Please know that I continue to pray for Ms. Furcron in hopes that she continues to heal and makes a full recovery with her family at home," Vasquez said in his video statement.

The shooting of Furcron occurred during one of the first local protests in the wake of George Floyd's death earlier that week in Minneapolis. Floyd, a Black man, died after a White officer, Derek Chauvin, pushed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.

The May 30 protest in La Mesa devolved into rioting, looting and arson, as did another protest a day later in downtown San Diego. In the weeks that followed, demonstrators continued taking to the streets to decry police violence against Black people, with the near-daily local demonstrations remaining peaceful after the first weekend.

The footage from Knudsen's body-worn camera at the moment he shot Furcron that night is obscured by the wall behind which he is positioned. Footage from a nearby officer shows the shooting more clearly.

According to police, Knudsen and Furcron were separated by about 96 feet — roughly the length of a basketball court — when he shot her.

The police footage appears to show Furcron, more visible than other protesters because of her white shirt, throw an unidentified object. Police said she threw the item toward deputies positioned in a parking lot south of police headquarters.

Just after Furcron throws the item, Knudsen raises his weapon above the wall. In less than five seconds, he fires, and Furcron collapses.

Audio from the body-worn cameras indicate Knudsen thought Furcron was a man.

"That guy," Knudsen says to the officers around him. "That was the guy who's throwing things. That guy who is down right now, he's the one who was throwing things."

As those around Furcron rush to help her, other protesters almost immediately began shouting at officers and decrying the shooting.

"You guys shot her in the face," one woman can be heard screaming.

Pride said he believes the footage was edited selectively to create a narrative that Furcron "deserved it" because she threw an object. He said he believes the officer shot her in retaliation for throwing something, not because she posed a threat, and questioned why the department didn't release video of where the can landed.

"I bet (it) ... came nowhere near officers," Pride said.

The attorney said previously that witnesses had seen Furcron drop a soda can before she was shot. He and others, including Furcron's sons, have called on the Police Department to fire the officer.

©2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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