PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — Santa Monica police will conduct an internal investigation into the shooting death Tuesday of a mountain lion just a block from the popular Third Street Promenade.

An internal affairs unit will determine whether or not the police officers who fired the fatal shots handled the situation appropriately and if any other actions could have been taken to save the young lion’s life, said SMPD Sgt. Richard Lewis.

The investigation is automatic whenever officers use force, especially when shots are fired, Lewis added.

“What they look at is whether the shooting was justified, were the tactics used sound under the circumstances and should there be better training or would better training have alleviated this,” Lewis said.

The SMPD was on the defensive Wednesday after fielding scores of phone calls and e-mails from residents and those living as far away as Japan calling into question the decision to shoot the mountain lion, which wondered into a courtyard of an office building on Second Street near Wilshire Boulevard around 6 a.m. A janitor at the building called police after finding the lion.

Officials with the SMPD and the California Department of Fish and Game said shooting the 75-pound cat was in the best interest of public safety after attempts to tranquilize it and contain it in the courtyard failed.

“It was a last resort to shoot the animal,” Lewis said.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles is calling for an independent investigation into the incident.

“Basically, they agitated and frightened a cornered cat before they killed her,” said Madeline Bernstein, president of the society. “Hosing a mountain lion down and then shooting her with pepper-balls only served to make her more frenzied. Deadly force should be used only as a last resort. The citizens and wildlife of California deserve better.”

Lewis said the complaints he has received have come from many who were misinformed about the tactics used by authorities.

Lewis said the 3-year-old lion was initially docile, but after Fish and Game hit it with a tranquilizer dart it became agitated to the point that it rammed 2-inch-thick glass doors, shattering them. A hose was used to spray water near the lion to keep it from running. A water cannon was not used, he said.

Once the lion hit the glass, it looked as if it was about to jump over an enclosure and escape. Several bystanders had gathered at nearby intersections. Police made the decision to use lethal force, fearing the lion may attack.

A second tranquilizer was not used, Lewis said, because Fish and Game believed a second dose would “most likely” kill the lion because of its size and the amount of tranquilizer used in the first dart.

“Our whole goal was not to harm this cat,” Lewis said. “We deployed a less lethal option to try to keep it in there and sedated, but that was not working.”

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