The San Diego County District Attorney's office released its findings Wednesday from an investigation of an incident involving a 59-year-old grandmother who was reportedly blinded by a "less lethal" projectile fired by a La Mesa police officer during protests in the East County city this past spring.
La Mesa resident Leslie Furcron was hit May 30 by a projectile shot by La Mesa police Detective Eric Knudson.
Furcron spent several days in intensive care after she was shot in the forehead. Her attorney said this summer that she lost vision and sight in her left eye.
"After a detailed review of the facts and evidence, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office has determined that a La Mesa police detective, who fired a beanbag round that struck and injured a woman during a protest that turned into a violent riot in La Mesa, does not bear state criminal liability for his actions," said a statement released by the D.A.'s officie on Wednesday.
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Protesters gathered throughout the day on May 30 to call for changes to policing following the death of George Floyd underneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. The demonstration, one of several organized that week, centered on La Mesa because it had also been the site of a separate incident involving a La Mesa police officer, who made a controversial arrest of a Black man at a nearby trolley platform.
During the day, protesters marched through the streets and, at one point, attempted to gain access onto the busy Interstate 8 but, overall, there was no violence during the demonstration. As night fell, though, unrest grew between law enforcement officers surrounding the police department and the crowd of protesters.
Some in the crowd began to throw rocks and water bottles at officers, who began deploying tear gas and less-lethal projectiles while giving orders to disperse. Furcron arrived at the protest minutes before being shot, according to her attorney.
While some people threw rocks and water bottles at police officers, looters took advantage of the unrest by targeting nearby businesses and some establishments were set ablaze. In response, police officers deployed tear gas, flashbacks and projectiles to attendants.
"After dispersal warnings were given and chemical agents were deployed, protesters continued to throw rocks and other objects toward police officers and the police station…" the D.A. review report stated. "Officers, including Detective Knudson, responded to the patio outside the dispatch center. Officers fired less-lethal beanbag rounds and pepper balls in order to keep protesters who were throwing rocks from injuring officers, deputies, civilian employees with the police station and protesters. Knudson observed Leslie Furcron throw an object toward a line of San Diego County Sheriff's deputies in the parking lot. Knudson believed Furcron throw a rock. Knudson was incorrect. A Facebook Live video recorded by Furcron confirmed that Furcron threw a can toward deputies. The can landed approximately a third of the way between Furcron and deputies."
In summation, county D.A. Summer Stephan stated, "Detective Knudson believed Ms. Furcron had thrown a rock. He was incorrect. Ms. Furcron threw a can, but his belief was not unreasonable given the totality of the circumstances the officers were dealing with over several hours of protest and rioting where they were subject to rocks being thrown at them continuously. There is no question Ms. Furcron threw an object … Detective Knudson's actions were necessary to defend against a reasonable belief in an imminent threat of serious bodily harm to himself or others."
Furcron's attorney, Dante Pride, said in June that Furcron was holding up her cell phone to record the protest and heading home when an officer opened fire. She was among those who were hit by a bean-bag round and the force of the round knocked her to the ground. A graphic video of her later injury circulated social media.
"At the time that she was shot, she had just called the police 'murderers,'" Pride said at a June news conference. "She said, 'You guys are murderers,' and then, subsequent to that, in the video, you can hear the shot and then you can see the impact."
In December, Furcron filed a lawsuit accusing Knudson and the city of La Mesa of battery, emotional distress, and violation of Furcron's civil rights.
Detective Knudson remains on paid administrative leave pending the results of an internal administrative review of the incident, a representative for La Mesa police said on Wednesday.