LAPD SWAT officer says ‘happy hunting’ before fatal shooting

As members of the Los Angeles Police Department’s SWAT team prepared to confront an armed suspect who had holed up in a downtown apartment building earlier this month, one of the highly trained officers offered a comment to the others.

“Happy hunting,” he said.

The suspect was subsequently killed by gunfire from two other SWAT officers. Their supervisors later discovered the remark while reviewing video of the incident from cameras worn by officers at the scene.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore confirmed the officer’s comment, telling The Times the officer has been removed from the field pending the outcome of an investigation. Moore declined to name the officer, citing state privacy laws for police.

“It’s a disturbing remark,” the chief said. “Gallows humor or otherwise, it doesn’t have a place.”

The officer made the remark on the morning of May 3, as officers responded to the 100 block of West 5th Street, where 54-year-old Leron James was in a fifth-floor apartment with a handgun. Police say James fired down on officers from a window and the officers returned fire, killing him.

The comment was made at the “back end of a rescue vehicle with a number of SWAT officers standing by in the initial stages of their response” to the incident, Moore said. He added that he reviewed a video of the officer saying the remark, which came from the camera of an officer who was walking past the group at the time.

Moore said he doesn’t know which officers may have heard the remark. Another source with knowledge of the incident, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, said the two officers who later opened fire on James were among the group gathered at the time.

The remark comes at a time of on-going scrutiny of the department’s SWAT unit. In 2020, former SWAT Sgt. Tim Colomey filed a lawsuit alleging the team operates under a “culture of violence” driven by a group of influential members known as the “SWAT Mafia.”

In his lawsuit, which is still pending, Colomey claimed the problematic members “glamorize the use of lethal force” and ensure that officers who “share the same values” are promoted in the unit while commanders turn a “blind eye” to the problems.

Moore rejected the idea that the SWAT team glorifies violence, saying its members have consistently shown restraint and skill while handling difficult and dangerous situations. He said the team’s professionalism will be made clear as Colomey’s case proceeds.

“I believe that when this matter is fully explored, including a review of SWAT’s actions over the last decade, that you’ll find that these are highly professional individuals trained in a manner that seeks to preserve life,” Moore said.

However, that “doesn’t mean they always get it right,” he said.

“How would an officer make that remark?” Moore said. “SWAT has my highest level of confidence — as well as my highest level of expectations — of any tactical unit in the police department.”

According to police, the fatal encounter with James began when he allegedly pulled out a gun in front of paramedics, who then called police. James allegedly brandished the gun again when officers arrived and then retreated to the apartment, prompting the officers to summon the SWAT team.

After negotiations with James failed to resolve the standoff, members of the SWAT unit decided to fire tear gas into the apartment, police said.

After they did so, James allegedly came to the window and fired a single round toward officers, and two SWAT officers returned fire, the LAPD said. Neither of the officers who fired made the “happy hunting” remark. They were identified as Howard Ng and Joseph Dominguez.

James was pronounced dead at the scene and police said a gun was recovered. The shooting remains under investigation.

Moore said the remark “raised immediate concern” among commanders when they heard it while reviewing video of the incident a few days later. An internal investigation was opened and the officer was sidelined.

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