About 50 people turned out tonight for a rally at 939 Palm Ave. to mourn the deaths of two young men at that apartment building and to demand that the City of West Hollywood hold the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department accountable for one of those deaths.
Dr. Kurtland Ma, 34, was found stabbed to death in his apartment at 939 Palm on March 29. His boyfriend, Andre Davids, has been charged with his murder and is being held in prison in lieu of $1 million bail. On April 7, John Winkler, 30, was shot to death by a sheriff’s deputy responding to a call about an altercation in the same building. Winkler was shot as he was fleeing an apartment whose tenant, Alexander McDonald, is alleged to have held him and two other men hostage and attacked them with a knife. Another man fleeing with Wilkins was shot but was not killed. McDonald has been arrested on charges of murder, torture and attempted murder. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is being held in prison in lieu of $4.1 million bail.
The deaths of both young men have provoked an outpouring of sympathy from those who knew them and from other residents of West Hollywood upset by the killings. Such deaths are unusual in West Hollywood, where the Sheriff’s Department reported no murders in 2013. The shooting death of Winkler also has provoked outrage among residents who believe the three sheriff’s deputies who responded to the incident overreacted by quickly using deadly force.
“You do not shoot unarmed people,” said one speaker at the candlelight gathering, an opinion echoed by several others. The group marched from 939 Palm south to Santa Monica Boulevard to stand in front of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Departments’s West Hollywood Station, where several speakers called for the City Council to investigate the shooting incident.
Lt. David Coleman of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau said last week that deputies responding to a call from another resident of the building were told that there were only two men living in the apartment where the altercation was taking place and that the suspect was a white man with a thin build wearing a black shirt.
Deputies stood at the front door of the apartment and tried to contact those inside when “the door suddenly opened and a male victim came rushing out,” Coleman said. “He was covered in blood and bleeding profusely from the neck. Simultaneously, victim Winkler ran out the door, lunging at the back of the fleeing victim. Both ran directly at the deputies.”
“Winkler was similar to the description of the suspect and was wearing a black shirt. Believing Winkler was the assailant and the assault was ongoing and he would attack the entry team, three deputies fired their duty weapons at him. Victim Winkler was struck by the gunfire and fell to the floor, and the male victim also collapsed, struck once by the gunfire.”
The rally was organized by Eric Schmidt and Larry Block, owner of the Block Party clothing store, who has complained that one of his employees, Matt Royalwood,who lives in the 939 Palm building, was accosted and handcuffed by sheriff’s deputies when he stepped out of his apartment during the April 7 incident to see what was going on. Royalwood elaborated on his complaints in an interview earlier in the day with KTLA, Channel 5.
“I think we need to have a little closure in this community and put these guys to rest,” Block said. “This is a tragedy not only for the people in this building but for everyone in this neighborhood.”