LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies mistakenly shot to death a hostage who was fleeing from a knife-wielding attacker at a West Hollywood apartment, authorities announced Thursday.
John Winkler, 30, an aspiring television producer, died at a hospital following Monday night’s confrontation.
“Taking the life of an innocent person is a police officer’s greatest nightmare,” Interim Sheriff John Scott said at a news conference.
The entire department mourned Winkler’s death, he added.
Winkler was “hanging out” with some friends who lived in the apartment below him on Palm Avenue when a man who also lived in that apartment took them hostage at knifepoint, authorities said.
Alexander McDonald climbed over a balcony into his own home with a 10-inch butcher knife, authorities said.
He was “in an incoherent state of mind, seemed very paranoid, which was uncharacteristic,” sheriff’s homicide Lt. David Coleman said. He took his roommate, Winkler and another man hostage, then flew into a rage and began stabbing and fighting with them, authorities said.
Scott said deputies received a panicky 911 call that someone was threatening residents with a knife and went to the apartment, where they were told the attacker was a thin man in a black shirt.
Deputies announced themselves and pounded on the door and at that moment one of the stabbing victims took the opportunity to escape, Coleman said.
“The door suddenly opened and a man with blood spurting form his neck entered the doorway.” Scott said.
Winkler also ran out, behind but nearly on top of the other man, authorities said.
Deputies, noting his thin build and black shirt, mistook Winkler for the suspect and thought he was continuing to attack the other man, Coleman said.
Three deputies fired four shots. Winkler was hit once and mortally wounded. The other man was hit in the leg and was hospitalized in stable condition, authorities said.
Deputies burst into the apartment and allegedly saw McDonald choking a man on the floor. That man was treated for stab wounds and other injuries and released, according to a Sheriff’s Department statement.
McDonald, 27, was treated for minor injuries. County prosecutors have charged him with torture, murder and two counts of attempted murder. He remained jailed Thursday.
“We don’t know what caused his rage or what caused his outburst,” or whether drugs were involved, Coleman said.
Winkler had moved to West Hollywood from Washington state six months ago to work in the entertainment industry, his friend, Devin Richardson, told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1jx56x6 ).
The deputies, all department veterans, were removed from patrol after the shooting but were expected to return to full duty next week, sheriff’s officials said.