Ex-Pierce County man shot, killed by L.A. police in case of mistaken identity

The Los Angeles TimesApril 10, 2014 

In a fatal case of mistaken identity, a former Pierce County man was shot and killed this week by deputies who thought he was a stabbing suspect, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department acknowledged Thursday.

In fact, John Winkler, a 30-year-old aspiring TV producer, had gone Monday night to a neighbor’s apartment in West Hollywood where a man was holding people hostage and tried to help.

Winkler was shot when he rushed out of the apartment with another victim who had been trapped inside the apartment with a third victim and the suspect, sheriff’s officials said Thursday in a statement.

“The apartment door suddenly opened and a male victim came rushing out,” the statement said. “He was covered in blood and bleeding profusely from the neck. Simultaneously, victim Winkler ran out of the door, lunging at the back of the fleeing victim. Both ran directly at the deputies.”

Three deputies fired at Winkler. He was shot once and died.

Interim Sheriff John Scott on Thursday called the shooting “very tragic.”

Winkler had moved to West Hollywood from Washington State six months ago to pursue a career in entertainment and had recently been hired for several days as a production assistant for the comedy show “Tosh.0.”

Devin Richardson, a friend of Winkler, said Winkler attended Puyallup High School and wanted to become a producer. A Facebook profile that appears to be Winkler’s shows he attended the Seattle Film Institute.

Richardson said Winkler was friends with two of the people held hostage and had rushed over to the apartment when he heard them screaming.

“It’s just a really sad story,” Richardson said. “He basically went to help some neighbors and ends up getting shot.”

An aunt said Winkler was thrilled about being in Hollywood.

“He was quite excited the last time we talked to him,” said Anne-Marie Van Wart, 62, of Tacoma.

She remembered the last time she talked to him. She was at his parents’ house in January and Winkler’s family was there, including his two younger brothers.

“He was just boisterous and excited, he was just getting his foot in the door of life. Just, the light was right around the corner … and (now) he’s gone.”

The incident unfolded about 9:30 p.m. Monday in a large apartment complex after sheriff’s deputies got a call about an assailant with a knife inside one of the units. When they got to the complex, a witness told them two men were in the apartment and that the assailant was a thin white man wearing a black shirt, according to the statement.

Deputies “announced themselves” at the apartment but got no response. The door suddenly burst open and a bloodied man came out. At the same moment, Winkler ran out. The deputies believed “Winkler was the assailant and the assault was ongoing and he would attack the entry team,” according to the statement.

After the deputies fired on Winkler and the other man, they heard “sounds of a fight coming from inside the apartment,” according to the statement. They burst into the room and saw another male victim as well as the suspect, later identified as Alexander McDonald, who was choking the third victim and “tearing at his face,” officials said.

The deputies subdued McDonald, 27, and arrested him. He was charged with one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder, and one count of torture. He was being held in lieu of $4 million bail.

Officials said McDonald had held Winkler and the two other men hostage. When deputies arrived, McDonald flew into “a rage ... began stabbing the men and fighting with them.”

The second man shot by deputies was taken to a hospital where he was treated for stab wounds to the neck and a gunshot wound to the leg. He was in stable condition Thursday. The third victim was treated for stab wounds to the leg, arms and chest.

Officials said McDonald and one of the victims were roommates.

The Sheriff’s Department’s initial news release Tuesday made no mention of the mistaken identity and said the two people shot had “aggressed the deputies.”

Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers said it was “pretty apparent” the night of the incident that it was a case of mistaken identity. He said he was officially briefed of that determination Tuesday.

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