Two Los Angeles police officers cleared in 2021 fatal shooting

Police body camera footage from July 26, 2021, shows Los Angeles Police Department officers responding to a 911 call about a man carrying a knife. Samuel Soto was killed by police gunfire during the incident. Photo courtesy of California Department of Justice

Feb. 10 (UPI) -- A pair of Los Angeles Police Department officers will not face charges after they were cleared of criminal wrongdoing in a fatal officer-involved shooting, the California Department of Justice says.

The DOJ investigated LAPD officers Eduardo Martinez and David Voci after both shot Samuel Soto on July 26, 2021.

Martinez and later Voci were responding to a call about a man bleeding from the neck while carrying a knife in the Pico-Union neighborhood of Central Los Angeles.

Soto was shot two separate times during the interaction with police, was later hospitalized and died from his injuries in early November of that year.

The report, released Friday, states that after "a thorough investigation, DOJ concluded that criminal charges were not appropriate in this case.

"However, DOJ recognizes the important lessons to be learned from this incident. As required by [state law], the Attorney General has issued specific policy and practice recommendations related to the incident."

The Los Angeles Times reviewed footage from police body-worn cameras which show Voci fired three shots hitting Soto after he had already dropped the knife he'd been carrying and minutes after the first round of shots.

"Does he have the knife? Does he have the knife or no?" Martinez can be heard saying on the recording.

"No, he doesn't have the knife," Officer Ruben Mejia responds.

Mejia and Martinez were the first to arrive on the scene and Martinez fired shots before backup officers -- including Voci -- had arrived.

The report also shows photos of the four-inch retractable knife covered in blood Soto was carrying at the time.

The California Justice Department decided "there is insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution of the officers. As such, no further action will be taken in this case."

Both Voci and Martinez were designated as involved officers and declined to provide statements to police oversight investigators. As a witness officer, Mejia was compelled to provide a statement.

Investigators also interviewed several civilian witnesses and reviewed police video footage from both body-worn cameras and those mounted inside police vehicles.

"The loss of life is always a tragedy. We understand that this incident was difficult for everyone involved, including the family of Mr. Soto, law enforcement, and the community at large," California Attorney General Rob Bonta said.

"Our hope is that this report will offer some clarity and facilitate our collective progress towards a California that is safer and more equitable."

The state's report also contains numerous recommendations, including ensuring officers are always equipped with functional stun guns.

"Given that all but one officer lacked fully charged or functioning TASERs, LAPD should further ensure no systemic issues exist with respect to the availability of fully charged and functional TASERs," the report reads.