U.S. to review airman shooting case

The Press-Enterprise

With the words "not guilty," former sheriff's deputy Ivory J. Webb Jr. burst into celebration at San Bernardino County Superior Court on Thursday, free of the attempted manslaughter charge he faced for shooting an unarmed airman last year.

But Webb is not yet clear of possible criminal liability connected to the shooting.

A U.S. attorney's office spokesman said prosecutors there would now review evidence in the just-completed state trial to determine if there is a basis to charge Webb with a federal violation of civil rights under the color of authority.

The potential federal charge, which was used to convict Los Angeles police officers who were acquitted by the state in the Rodney King beating, is not taken lightly, said spokesman Thom Mrozek.

There is no timeline, once federal prosecutors receive the requested reports, for making a decision in Webb's case.

"It's unusual for us to even acknowledge we're interested in a particular matter," Mrozek said. "But with civil-rights violations, we want the public to know it's very serious and the federal government is going to do everything in its power."

Representatives of the Carrion family said Thursday that they plan to ask for federal prosecution of Webb. A federal civil lawsuit already has been filed.

Webb, 46, was set free after a four-week trial centering on the grainy amateur videotape that showed him shooting Elio Carrion after a car chase through Chino in January 2006. The former deputy became the first officer in San Bernardino County criminally charged for a shooting in the line of duty, and faced charges of attempted voluntary manslaughter and assault with a firearm.

On Friday, members of the sheriff's union and the Sheriff's Department expressed relief at the acquittal.

During a question-and-answer session Friday, San Bernardino County Sheriff Gary Penrod called the shooting one of the toughest things he has dealt with during his decade-plus tenure. The verdict, however, was taken as good news throughout his department.

"Everyone was pretty thrilled," Penrod said.

But it doesn't mean that Webb will again work for the Sheriff's Department. Without revealing the specific reasons for Webb's exit last year, Penrod said the circumstances mean "we wouldn't reinstate him at this time."

Webb's plans remain unknown. His attorney, Michael Schwartz, did not return a request to comment Friday.

The head of Webb's union, however, said the former deputy has a right to reapply for a job if chooses, and the union would support him.

The acquittal also pleased union members, said William Abernathie, president of the San Bernardino County Employee Benefits Association.

"Sometimes you have to rely on the system," Abernathie said, "and judging from the verdict yesterday, the system works."

Prosecutors argued that Webb was reckless and had no reasonable cause when he shot and wounded the 23-year-old Carrion, who was a passenger in a Corvette that had led Webb on a high-speed pursuit.

The victim, an off-duty Air Force military policeman who later tested at twice the presumptive blood-alcohol level for drunken driving, appeared to be obeying orders to get up when he was shot.

But jurors favored the defense's argument that the video did not tell the entire story, and that Webb was in unfamiliar terrain dealing with two men who were not obeying his orders. At the moments prior to the shooting, Schwartz argued that Carrion appeared to be reaching into his jacket, a sign Webb took as meaning he may have been armed.

Penrod acknowledged that there were several decisions by Webb that night that "probably could have been done in a better way."

The position of Webb's patrol car was one, Penrod said, but Webb's decision to approach Carrion and the driver of the Corvette, Luis Escobedo, without backup was not second-guessed.

"What he did was the right action at the time," Penrod said, explaining that Webb did not know where his closest backup was.

The sheriff and Webb did not speak immediately after the verdict, but Penrod acknowledged the two had long exchanges after the incident and before the trial.

"He's a very nice, easygoing guy," Penrod said.

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