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‘I Just Watched a Murder’: New Details Emerge in the Police Killing of Frederick Holder

Sheriff Villanueva unsure if LASD deputies violated departmental policy when they fired 33 times into a parked car.

frederick holder posing in front of a banner for "The Voice"
Frederick Holder poses on set for the television show ‘The Voice.’ (Courtesy of the Holder family)

CONTENT WARNING: The following article includes autopsy photos of Frederick Holder’s body, released with the permission of his family. The photos are graphically violent and deeply disturbing. Please exercise extreme caution and self-care if you choose to view these images.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies who shot and killed Frederick Holder on June 23, 2021, appear to have violated several departmental policies during the shooting. Deputies did not wear body cameras, engaged in a pursuit outside of procedure, and opened fire on an occupied vehicle on a crowded freeway on-ramp. The gunshot wounds left Holder unrecognizable to his family. 

Holder last saw his loved ones the day before he was killed. On June 22, 2021, he spent the day visiting with his mother, April. The two of them spent time watching television together and doing video calls with the other siblings. April also combed out Holder’s long hair and braided it up.

“He gave me a hug, gave me a kiss. Walked him out to the car and [he] got in the car. He’s like, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow Ma,’” April tells Knock LA. “And the next time we get the phone call. He was gone.”

an instagram photo of frederick holder wearing a white shirt with the caption "the fro gives u powers!"
Image: Justice4fredh | Instagram

On June 23, 2021, Holder was driving in a white Ford utility box truck near Studebaker Road and Rosecrans Avenue just before 10 AM. A Los Angeles Police Department helicopter operator radioed to the LASD Norwalk station requesting a unit to attempt to stop him. The helicopter operator stated that although the truck was “not wanted,” he would continue to pursue it because the tailgate was open. The operator also stated that he was monitoring the vehicle, as it had initially come in as a call for reckless driving from the LAPD’s Southwest station, located in South LA. 

It is against LASD’s own policy to pursue vehicles for reckless driving. The department manual of policies and procedures states that: 

[A] pursuit shall not be initiated or continued: Once it has been determined that the driver of a vehicle is refusing or failing to yield and the only known reason for the intended stop is:

  • An infraction or misdemeanor crime (including California Vehicle Code (CVC) violations), except as provided above;
  • Any crime not classified as a serious felony, as described in this section; or
  • A possible grand theft, vehicle.

Apparently disregarding policy, four sheriff’s deputies’ vehicles located the truck and surrounded it. LASD describes the encounter as a “traffic stop on a neighborhood street one block north of the on-ramp.” According to the department, deputies used a public announcement system to instruct Holder to exit the vehicle. Holder slowly drove away south on Piuma Avenue and was pursued by the deputies. 

Holder drove the truck onto the on-ramp and merged with traffic, which was stopped at a red light. Deputies parked their vehicles behind him and three exited, all carrying firearms. None were wearing body cameras, despite the department requiring the activation of body-worn cameras during vehicle stops and pursuits.

Dashboard camera video shows the three deputies briefly speaking from behind an LASD sedan, then proceeding toward Holder’s truck with their guns drawn. LASD policy explicitly states that “firearms should not be discharged at a stationary or moving vehicle, the occupants of a vehicle, or the tires of a vehicle unless a person in the vehicle is imminently threatening a Department member or another person present with deadly force by means other than the moving vehicle.” Furthermore, internal LASD documents state that “shooting at a vehicle is inherently dangerous and almost always ineffective.”

Another LASD vehicle parked behind the truck obscures most of what happens next on the dashcam video. Department policy states that once a pursued vehicle has stopped, deputies must develop a tactical plan, utilize “less lethal” weapons, assign designated shooters, and fire discipline as well as shooting backdrop — meaning the amount of times one fires and what is behind the target of fire, respectively. None of this happened on June 23, 2021. 

LASD says that when the deputies approached the driver’s side door, Holder pointed a lighter at them, prompting all three deputies to open fire on Holder. Deputies Jackie Rojas, Javier Fierros, and Christopher Conger fired ten shots from a .223 rifle and 23 shots from two 9mm handguns. The deputies stood on either side of the cab and shot Holder where he sat, resulting in crossfire — where the arcs of fire on two deputies’ weapons overlap. Reports prepared by LA County initially stated Holder was hit 17 times, but later examination amended that number to 11. 

“I just watched a murder,” said one deputy who reviewed footage of the shooting. 

The injuries to Holder’s body are horrifying. A technician at the LA County coroner’s office estimates that the deputies stood a maximum of 10 feet away from Holder when they fired. Photos taken by coroner officials show that Holder’s jaw was blown off by deputies. The technician believes that the shot came from the high-powered assault rifle. After Holder was killed, LASD claimed that the truck was stolen. Requests to review the reports for the stolen vehicle made by Knock LA were denied by the LASD. 

LASD did not notify Holder’s family of his death for seven days.

During that time, his mother says she was extremely worried about his well being. “I never, ever would have thought I’d have got that phone call,” she says. “I don’t think it’s been like a whole seven days before we would hear from him.” 

One week after the shooting, April received a phone call from LASD informing her that her son had been involved in a “deputy-involved shooting” and was “gone.” A few weeks later, she and her daughter, Hali, met with detectives at the Santa Clarita station to discuss the incident. During that meeting, the family learned Holder had been shot for holding a lighter. The family met with the department again to review the video of the shooting, but subsequent requests to meet with Sheriff Alex Villanueva have not been answered. 

The family has attended two community events hosted by Villanueva in an attempt to ask him about the status of the case, and whether the deputies involved will be disciplined. In response Villanueva said, “The overwhelming majority of deputy-involved shootings, officer-involved shootings nationwide are justified.” 

On the contrary, several law enforcement officers have been convicted of murder charges for killing civilians. In Los Angeles County, District Attorney George Gascón charged former deputy Andrew Lyons with manslaughter for fatally shooting unarmed 24-year-old Ryan Twyman. Twyman was sitting in his car with another person in an apartment complex parking lot in Willowbrook. Thirty-four shots were fired. “Policing is a difficult and trying job, but it does not excuse anyone from accountability under the law — especially when a human life is lost.”

The deputies who killed Holder have yet to face any discipline from LASD. Whether or not they will face criminal consequences now lies with Gascón.

CORRECTION 3/10/21: A previous version of this article stated that the autopsy report recorded 17 gunshot wounds.