In a department where many officers spend their entire careers without firing their weapons, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Forlano is an outlier.
Following his sixth shooting, Forlano was pulled from patrol duty and assigned to a desk job. He was also disciplined for “tactical deficiencies” in that shooting. But recently, he was allowed to return to the streets.
After a few months back on patrol, he got into his seventh shooting last week when he and a colleague fatally shot a suspect in East Los Angeles.
Records show that three of Forlano’s previous shootings involved suspects who were unarmed. In the latest incident, sheriff’s officials said Forlano and another deputy fatally shot a man who fought with them as they investigated a report of a man with a gun. A handgun was found at the scene, officials said.
The most recent shooting and Forlano’s department history have sparked controversy over how his case was handled.
Michael Gennaco, chief attorney for the county’s Office of Independent Review, wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors this week raising questions about how Forlano was allowed to return to field duty.
Gennaco, who did not name the deputy, wrote that the department should create rules to make sure that decisions about whether to return such deputies to the streets are “thoughtful, deliberate, and well-considered, with the personal involvement of the Sheriff.” Sheriff Lee Baca, he said, was not informed about the decision to reassign the deputy.
“Seven shootings in the Sheriff’s Department is extraordinary,” Gennaco said in an interview, “compared to the number of patrol deputies and how many they get involved in, which is usually zero or one.”
A department captain identified the deputy as Forlano, an 18-year department veteran.
Capt. Robert J. Tubbs, who supervises the Community Oriented Policing Services bureau, said Forlano had done a fantastic job doing administrative work for the last two years. Tubbs said the deputy had been eager to return to the streets to “do the thing he loves to do, and that’s police work.”
“We’ve had our bumps in the road with some of his tactics, but overall he’s been outstanding,” Tubbs said. “Tony has a propensity to be able to find criminal activity anywhere. He’s a lightning rod. He’s a great street cop.”
In last week’s shooting, sheriff’s officials said deputies responded during the early hours of Sept. 10 to a call of a woman screaming in the City Terrace area. A witness flagged the deputies down, saying he had seen a man with a gun, the department said in a news release. As the deputies searched the area, they heard a gunshot.
They tried to detain a possible suspect but the man started fighting with the deputies, and the shooting occurred, according to the news release. Sheriff’s officials said the suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore confirmed that Forlano was one of the two deputies involved.
“This guy is [now] removed from patrol and very possibly will not ever return to patrol,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Department is investigating the shooting, as is the district attorney’s office, which routinely reviews law enforcement shootings in which someone is wounded or killed.
District attorney officials have reviewed three of Forlano’s past shootings, concluding in each that he legally acted in self-defense and in the defense of others, according to the office’s records.
On the evening of Feb. 12, 2004 Forlano and his partner shot at a 17-year-old as the teen fled following a brief car chase in Compton. Forlano told investigators that he had seen the suspect place a large silver object in his pants pocket and run holding his left hand near his waistband before he stopped and turned.
The silver object turned out to be a cellphone. The suspect later told investigators he ran because he was on probation and had to pull his sagging pants up as he fled. He was shot once in his right buttock.
In the predawn hours of Sept. 12, 2004 Forlano opened fire as he and another deputy struggled with Salvador Montoya, wounding him in the torso, according to district attorney records. Both deputies told investigators that Forlano opened fire after the other deputy shouted, “He has my gun” during the struggle.
Forlano said he was unable to see whether Montoya had his partner’s gun because it was dark and he was behind Montoya. Once Montoya was handcuffed, Forlano was able to see that the gun was in his partner’s holster.
The county paid Montoya $150,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit over the shooting, according to county documents.
On Feb. 14, 2011 Forlano was involved in a high-speed chase that ended in another shooting. Forlano and his partner told investigators they gave chase after Osvaldo Ureta waived a small black handgun at them and struck their patrol car with his vehicle, according to a district attorney memo. No handgun was found in Ureta’s vehicle, though a district attorney’s official concluded that the deputies must have missed Ureta discarding the weapon during the chase.
Gennaco said in his letter to the board that Forlano was removed from field duties after an Oct. 19, 2011, shooting. Then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka ordered that the deputy be allowed to return to the field after the deputy complained to him, Gennaco said in the letter.
The case is likely to reverberate politically as Tanaka, who retired this year, campaigns to unseat his former boss.
Baca, through a spokesman, described Tanaka’s decision as “disturbing. It presents a pattern that reflects a lack of accountability.”
But Tanaka said in a statement that he was the one who decided to put the deputy on desk duty after the October 2011 shooting. He said he only agreed to allow him to return to field duty after receiving a strong recommendation from command staff, who said the deputy had shown “exemplary deputy conduct and professionalism.”