Inspector General report asks questions regarding SCV deputy-involved shootings 

From right, Inspector General Max Huntsman, Robert Bonner and Brian K. Williams review documents before the start of the Civilian Oversight Commission on Thursday at William S. Hart Park. Dec. 15, 2022 Perry Smith/The Signal

The Los Angeles County Office of Inspector General’s quarterly report offered new details and proposed several follow-up questions regarding two deputy-involved shootings in the Santa Clarita Valley area. 

The report is part of reform and oversight efforts regarding the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which includes reports on deputy-involved shootings and other topics from January to March of this year. The report is based on “limited, preliminary information” provided by the Sheriff’s Department. 

The following are summaries of the two local deputy-involved shootings based on accounts from the Inspector General’s report, narratives provided by the Sheriff’s Department, and previous Signal reporting. 

Alon Foster 

The first of the two local deputy-involved shootings mentioned in the report was the case of Foster — a suspect in the homicide of his girlfriend, Sheila Ashley. 

At approximately 1:15 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 8, Ashley was stabbed to death near the intersection of Bouquet Canyon Road and Spunky Canyon Road, near the east tip of Bouquet Canyon Reservoir. 

The location is about 11.5 miles up the canyon from Bouquet’s intersection with Vasquez Canyon Road. 

Homicide detectives and other law enforcement personnel were still on the scene investigating Ashley’s death at approximately 7:40 a.m. when they heard a noise coming from behind a chain-linked fence adjacent to where Ashley’s body was found. 

Upon investigation of the noise, deputies saw Foster armed with a knife. They cut a hole in the fence and made contact with him. Commands were issued for him to drop the knife, but he did not. 

Deputies talked to Foster for 20 to 30 minutes. At some point in the conversation, he advanced toward them with the knife. A reserve deputy deployed a 40mm baton launcher, which had no effect. 

As Foster then charged the other deputies, he was shot and killed. Foster died at the scene. 

The shooting involved six deputies from the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station who fired a total of 46 rounds. No deputies were injured. 

The “Areas for Further Inquiry” in the Inspector General’s account presented seven questions to be followed up on: 

“Were the deputies who employed weapons, including the reserve deputy, properly trained and qualified on those weapons, including the non-lethal weapons and the AR-15 rifle?” 

“Given the remote area, were there other ways of containing a suspect armed with a knife while protecting deputy safety, including calling in additional law enforcement or mental health resources?” 

“Did the deputies form a tactical plan prior to or during their extended contact with the suspect?” 

“Was the reserve deputy who deployed the 40mm baton launcher physically positioned in a manner which exposed them to potential crossfire?” 

“Why were there so many deputies involved in the use of lethal force and why were so many rounds fired?” 

“Was a supervisor present on scene and in command at the time of the shooting?” 

“Was the Mental Evaluation Team requested for assistance?” 

Christopher Lee Mercurio 

Mercurio, 50, was shot in front of Macy’s at 10:58 p.m. on Jan. 11, as a deputy from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station was responding to a call for service regarding a male trespassing. 

A 9-1-1 call reported a male “transient” causing problems at the west entrance of the Westfield Valencia Town Center. The man was later found sleeping at the location, as seen in the “Critical Incident Briefing – Santa Clarita Valley Station, 01/11/23” video posted by the Sheriff’s Department on its YouTube page. 

The caller reported the man “basically wants to start a fight whenever (the workers) go up to him” and that, in an attempt to talk to him, Mercurio had said, “The only way I’m getting out of here is if I put one of you into a chokehold.” 

The caller requested sheriff’s deputies’ assistance in making the man leave the property. 

According to the Inspector General’s report, the dispatcher “had information that the suspect had threatened people and was uncooperative with mall security,” but that information was never shared with the deputy responding to the call or the deputy who was en route for backup. 

The deputy who initially made contact with Mercurio approached him and asked him to leave the area. He refused and advanced upon the deputy, while threatening to kill her. 

Mercurio punched the deputy in the face, and the deputy then punched him back. 

“While the altercation resulted in distance between the deputy and (Mercurio), (Mercurio) continued advancing toward the deputy, at which point the deputy fired two rounds at (Mercurio),” read the Inspector General’s report. 

Mercurio was transported to the hospital and later died from his injuries. 

The deputy was also transported to the hospital and treated for injuries sustained during the altercation. 

Because he was unarmed during the altercation, the California Department of Justice is conducting an investigation into his death pursuant to Assembly Bill 1506. 

The bodycam footage of the deputy involved in the shooting, a local store’s CCTV footage, and the 9-1-1 call were later released by the Sheriff’s Department. 

The “Areas for Further Inquiry” in the Inspector General’s account presented five questions to be followed up on: 

“Why didn’t the deputy wait for the backup unit to arrive prior to contacting (Mercurio)?” 

“Did the deputy maintain an appropriate amount of distance from (Mercurio) when making initial contact?” 

“Did the deputy have reasonable alternatives to using deadly force, including less-lethal force options?” 

“Could the deputy have retreated to reassess the situation?” 

“Why didn’t the dispatcher provide the deputies with all known information regarding the (Mercurio’s) threatening behavior?” 

Additional facts from the Inspector General’s report: 

There have been eight incidents countywide in the first quarter of this year in which people were shot or shot at by the Sheriff’s Department, six of which were “hit shootings,” meaning a round hit someone. Five of these shootings were fatal. 

If deputy-involved shootings continue at this rate, there would be 32 shootings by the end of the year. 

When a deputy-involved shooting occurs, the Office of the Inspector General responds to each one. They conduct a walk-through of the scene of the shootings, receive preliminary information and summaries from the Sheriff’s Department, and attend the Sheriff’s Department Critical  

Incident Reviews. 

They do not receive statements of the involved parties and witnesses until the Sheriff’s Department, or Justice Department completes its side of the investigation. The Sheriff’s Department also permits limited access to the Inspector General’s Office to monitor ongoing investigations of deputy-involved shootings. 

When asked for a comment regarding the Inspector General’s report, the Sheriff’s Information Bureau released the following statement: 

“We are working with the Office of Inspector General in reviewing the Reform and Oversight Efforts quarterly report,” read the statement. “Because (Mercurio) was unarmed, the California Department of Justice Division of Law Enforcement is conducting the investigation pursuant to AB 1506. The shooting of (Foster) is being investigated by LASD’s Homicide Bureau. Homicide Bureau conducts very thorough and clearly defined investigations into each shooting. Due to the complex nature of each case, we cannot provide a timeline on the shooting of Alon Foster because it is an ongoing investigation.” 

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