Police seeking robber kill unarmed, innocent man

DOWNEY, Calif. - A Southern California police officer looking for an armed ATM robber may have shot and killed the wrong man, investigators said Monday.

A Downey officer responding to the Saturday night robbery call spotted Michael Nida, a 31-year-old unarmed father of four who matched the description of the suspect, said Lt. Dave Dolson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which has taken over the shooting investigation.

Customers at a nearby ATM had been robbed at gunpoint minutes earlier and Dolson said it was believed Nida was the suspect.

"It very well looks like it could be a matter of perception," Dolson told KNX radio. "This individual somewhat matches the description of an armed robber who robbed people at the ATM."

Family members told CBS News station KCBS-TV that Nida had jaywalked across a busy street to buy cigarettes as his wife bought gas. Nida was spotted by a Downey officer, who said he was acting suspiciously. The officer asked Nida to sit down.

"He got up and ran away," Dolson said.

(Watch at left a KCBS-TV report)

Nida was found a short distance away and officers ordered him to get on the ground, but he got up and ran again, Dolson said. Officers never checked Nida for a weapon and, believing he was armed, an officer shot him, the lieutenant said. No gun was found.

The officer apparently "believed in his mind that this man presented quite a danger to the people around him," Dolson said.

It was unclear why -- if officers believed Nida to be the suspect in an armed robbery -- he was not checked for weapons or put in handcuffs despite being detained twice and allegedly fleeing from the first detention. Police also did not explain why they had no non-lethal method to subdue the suspect who was "acting almost like a caged animal."

Nida was taken to a hospital, where he died. The family is furious.

"My brother and his wife were getting gas. He went across the street to get some cigarettes. He jaywalked, I guess," Nida's sister, Terri Teramura, told KCBS-TV. "And the police saw him. Confronted him. I don't know what happened, but they shot him."

A voicemail message left Monday for Downey police spokesman Sgt. Alex Irizabal wasn't immediately returned.

"He was God's gift, and he was taken away, not through any actions of his other than being afraid and running," said Nida's mother, Jean Gaxton.

Dolson said the investigation will include examination of video and audio recordings, although he didn't disclose if those were officer recordings. Investigators will compile a report and present them to the district attorney's office to determine if the shooting was justified.