An unarmed man shot in the head during an afternoon stroll filed a claim on Wednesday notifying the LAPD that he plans to sue the department for negligence. After surviving the gunshot wound, the man awoke from his coma several weeks later almost completely blind, deaf in one ear, over one-quarter of his skull caved in, and confined to a wheelchair.
At 6:35 p.m. on June 19, Officer Cairo Palacios and his partner were sitting in their patrol car stuck in traffic when they noticed a man standing on the sidewalk attempting to flag down the officers. According to LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith, the officers heard 48-year-old Walter DeLeon calling out to them saying, “Police, police.”
The officers claim that DeLeon walked towards them in an “aggressive manner” while pointing at them with his hands wrapped in a gray cloth. Believing DeLeon had a gun hidden underneath the towel, the officers exited their vehicle and reportedly ordered him to drop the gun. Unable to comply because DeLeon was not holding a gun, Officer Palacios opened fire shooting him in the head.
After DeLeon immediately fell to the ground, the officers searched him for weapons but found that he had been unarmed. A passing motorist recorded a graphic video of the officers handcuffing DeLeon even though he appeared unconscious with a massive exit wound in the back of his head and blood pouring down his neck. One of the motorists can be heard in the video exclaiming, “Oh! I see his brain!”
Charged with a felony count of assaulting a police officer, DeLeon spent weeks in a coma. Shortly after the shooting, the LAPD called DeLeon’s family to inform them that the charges against DeLeon had been dropped.
DeLeon awoke from his coma nearly blind, deaf in one ear, a quarter of skull missing, and confined to a wheelchair due to neurological damage. After undergoing 10 surgeries and spending five months in the hospital, DeLeon has regained some of his memory and most of his cognitive functions but has difficulty speaking.
“He can’t go to the restroom by himself. He can’t feed himself. He can’t dress himself,” his sister Yovanna DeLeon told ABC7.
Although DeLeon remembers taking a walk while holding a water bottle and a towel wrapped around his hand to wipe the sweat off his face, he can longer recall why he had flagged down the officers for help. DeLeon suspects the officer mistook the water bottle for a gun and overreacted.
“How threatening can I be toward them with a bottle of water and a towel?” DeLeon asked rhetorically.
Officer Palacios remains on desk duty pending an investigation into the shooting. On Wednesday, attorneys for DeLeon filed a notice of claim in Los Angeles County Superior Court as a precursor to a lawsuit against the police department. The notice accuses Palacios of shooting DeLeon without warning.
Seeking an apology and reforms to improve police training and transparency, DeLeon and his family simply want the LAPD to accept responsibility for DeLeon’s injuries. They also want Palacios to face criminal charges for negligently shooting an unarmed man asking for help.
After watching the video of the officers manhandling and handcuffing his unconscious body, DeLeon told the Los Feliz Ledger, “They treated my body like I was an animal. I am not an animal. I am a human being.”