BREAKING: Office of LA District Attorney George Gascón Will Not Charge Deputies Who Shot and Killed Frederick Holder
Holder was an unarmed Black man shot 17 times by Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies on a freeway on-ramp.
Updated December 13, 2022
The office of Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón announced this week that it would not charge deputies Christopher Conger, Javier Fierros, and Jackie Rojas for shooting and killing Frederick Holder on June 23, 2021. Holder, a 28-year-old unarmed Black man, was driving a box truck and stopped at a red light on a freeway on-ramp in Norwalk, California.
The office said in a statement to Knock LA, “We know that this is not the news that the friends and family of Mr. Holder wanted to hear today. Their loss remains immeasurable. We can assure the public that the investigation was extensive and our analysis was thorough. We do not take these decisions lightly. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a very high standard. This declination does not mean that they have been absolved of any moral or civil responsibility.”
In their analysis, the DA’s office writes that, “the deputies acted in lawful self-defense and defense of a third party when they fired their weapons, reasonably believing, based on a totality of the circumstances, that deadly force was necessary to defend against a deadly threat.”
The deputies appear to have violated several departmental policies during the shooting. They failed to wear body cameras, engaged in a pursuit outside of procedure, and opened fire on an occupied vehicle on a crowded freeway on-ramp. Conger, Fierros, and Rojas are still on duty.
Just after 9:50 AM on June 23, 2021, a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter operator requested a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) unit to attempt to stop a white Ford utility box truck Holder was driving. The helicopter also stated over dispatch that he was monitoring the vehicle for reckless driving after a call from the LAPD’s Southwest Station. The helicopter operator said the truck was “not wanted” for anything, but that he would continue to pursue it from the air because the tailgate was open.
Christopher Conger said in a statement that his partner, deputy Steven Douma, radioed to Conger that he was going to initiate a felony traffic stop. It is against LASD’s 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.
Four LASD vehicles surrounded the truck on a residential street. According to the department, the deputies used a public announcement system to instruct Holder to exit the truck. He drove away slowly south on Piuma Avenue and was pursued by deputies. He drove onto the freeway on-ramp and merged with traffic stopped at a red light.
Deputies parked their vehicles behind Holder and exited carrying firearms. None of them were wearing body cameras, despite the department requiring the activation of body-worn cameras during vehicle stops and pursuits. According to the DA’s report, Conger had placed his own dash camera inside his vehicle.
The video shows Conger, Fierro, and Rojas briefly speaking from behind an LASD sedan, then proceeding toward Holder’s truck.
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.”
Department policy also states that once a pursued vehicle has stopped, deputies must develop a tactical plan, utilize “less lethal” weapons, and assign designated shooters as well as fire discipline and shooting backdrop — meaning the amount of times one fires and what is behind the target of fire, respectively.
Deputies Conger, Fierros, and Rojas did not do any of this.
In his statement, Conger says he was within three feet of the passenger door when he saw Holder “sitting in the driver’s seat. He was looking to his left — over his left shoulder out the driver’s side window, and he was holding his right hand up against his chest holding what I believe[d] to be a small pistol.”
Fierros said that Holder held the object across his chest with his right hand and pointed it at him. The item Conger and his colleagues say they believed was a gun is a butane lighter.
When Conger saw Holder with the lighter in his hands, he yelled, “Gun! Gun! Gun!” and fired ten rounds from a .223 rifle at Holder. Fierros says he “backpedaled” and fired at Holder until his weapon was empty. He then reloaded his weapon and fired some more — because, he says, he heard “other rounds” and thought Holder might be shooting at him. Fierros estimates he fired 19 times. Rojas did not give a voluntary statement.
Fierros said that he approached the truck and opened the driver door. Deputy Jose Pimentel said he stepped into the cabin and saw what looked like the butt of a gun near Holder. When he picked it up, he realized it was too light to be a firearm. For some reason, he moved the lighter from where it was and put it underneath the truck. Fierros believes he was present when this happened. Three sergeants who responded to the scene had body-worn cameras and captured this on video. But the view is obstructed and does not show where in the cabin the torch lighter was located, according to the DA’s report.
The deputies said they tried to provide medical aid but stopped when they saw Holder appeared to be deceased.
The gunshot wounds left Holder unrecognizable to his family. Earlier this year, Knock LA obtained the autopsy photos of Frederick Holder. Sources said the wounds to his body indicated he was shot at a range of no more than 10 feet with an assault rifle, blowing off his mouth.
Holder is deeply missed by his family. “He would do everything he could to make sure you had a smile on your face before you left his presence,” said Hali Holder, Frederick’s younger sister. She says her brother shared a close bond with his nieces and nephews, and had recently become a father to his own son. Holder also had a passion for music, and spent hours creating beats with his youngest sister. “He was so full of life,” said step-sister Naketia Phillips. “Life just hasn’t been the same.”