Investigation and review determine there is insufficient evidence to support criminal charges
DOJ issues policy and practice recommendations related to the incident
OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta — in accordance with Assembly Bill 1506 (AB 1506) — today released a report on the death of Matthew James Sova. Sova was shot and killed by two officers with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) on July 15, 2021. After a thorough investigation and complete review of the evidence, the California Department of Justice (DOJ) has determined that there is insufficient evidence to support criminal charges. As required by AB 1506, the Attorney General has also issued specific policy and practice recommendations related to the incident.
“In 2020, the Legislature tasked my office with a new, critical responsibility of conducting independent investigations and reviews into officer-involved shootings,” said Attorney General Bonta. “I was proud to co-author the legislation when I was in the State Assembly and I'm honored to help carry the work out as Attorney General. It is essential for the people of California that we have a fair, thorough, and transparent process in place. Since July of 2021, when the law went into effect, my office has been hard at work, launching our first investigation into the tragic shooting death of Matthew James Sova. That investigation and review is now complete, and my office has determined that there is insufficient evidence to support criminal charges. But make no mistake: There is no scenario where the loss of someone's life to violence is something we should accept as the normal course of things. As part of our work under AB 1506, my office is also issuing specific recommendations to LAPD about steps they can and should take to help prevent these kinds of incidents from occurring in the future. I am grateful to all involved for their willingness to work with my office throughout this process. At the California Department of Justice, we will continue to fight and advocate for the change we need, and my heart goes out to Mr. Sova’s family, friends, and loved ones.”
On July 15, 2021, LAPD Officers Christopher Tabela and Isaiah Galvez responded to a call regarding a man with a gun on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. They contacted Matthew James Sova, who pointed what appeared to be a pistol, but was actually a lighter that looked like a firearm, at Officer Tabela. The officers fatally shot Sova. DOJ investigated and reviewed the shooting that resulted in Sova's death pursuant to California Government Code section 12525.3, which was enacted as a result of AB 1506. The report released today is the final step in the DOJ’s review of the fatal shooting, and is limited solely to determining whether criminal charges should be brought against the involved officers, and possible policy and practice recommendations. While the report does not encompass or comment on any potential administrative or civil actions, it does contain a detailed summary of the incident and investigation, a thorough legal analysis, and policy and practice recommendations made to LAPD.
DOJ conducted a comprehensive, objective, and independent investigation into the death of Matthew James Sova. In all, seven non-sworn emergency response personnel and 13 civilian witnesses were interviewed, and one incident scene was processed for evidence. As a whole, hundreds of hours of investigation were conducted by DOJ, LAPD, DOJ’s Bureau of Forensic Services, and the LAPD Crime Lab. As part of the review of the incident, the evidence analyzed included, among other things, police reports, witness statements, body-worn camera footage, surveillance footage, the autopsy report, medical records, and photographs. After a detailed analysis, the Department concluded there was substantial evidence that Officers Galvez and Tabela acted in self-defense and in the defense of others. Therefore, under the applicable legal standards, there is insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges.
Separately, as required by AB 1506, the Attorney General has issued several policy and practice recommendations to LAPD in relation to the incident. Among those recommendations, LAPD should:
DOJ — pursuant to AB 1506 — is required to investigate all incidents of a shooting by an officer resulting in the death of an unarmed civilian in the state. Historically, these critical incidents in California had been primarily handled by local law enforcement agencies and the state’s 58 district attorneys. However, signed into law on September 30, 2020, and in effect on July 1, 2021, AB 1506 provides DOJ with an important tool to directly help build and maintain trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve by creating a mandate for an independent, statewide prosecutor to investigate and review shootings by an officer that result in the death of unarmed civilians across California. More information on the California Department of Justice’s roles and responsibilities under AB 1506 is available here: https://oag.ca.gov/ois-incidents.
A copy of the report issued today is available here.