Two LAPD cars drove into our jurisdiction, slowly following a van. Their lights were flashing but the driver of the van seemed oblivious to them.
It was the during the late hours of our shift on a slow night in the Florence, Firestone, and Walnut Park Districts of Los Angeles County, districts patrolled by deputies assigned to Firestone Station.
Handling a Burglary Alarm Call
My trainee and I, working Unit 15A (“Fifteen-Adam”), had just handled a burglary alarm call on Central Avenue north of Florence Avenue. Our shift ended at 2:00 a.m., and we were close to getting off. We had been assisted on the burglary call by an Early Mornings (graveyard) shift car, Unit 12A (“Twelve-Adam”). This pair of partners were two heavyweights, literally and figuratively, a couple of big, brawny, tough ghetto cops who were seasoned veterans. They also happened to be my good friends. I called them by their nicknames, “Sonny” and “Bobo.”
When we cleared the call as a false alarm, we pulled our radio cars side-by-side and sat in the middle of the otherwise vacant boulevard. We were discussing where to grab a cup of coffee since the night was slow when the procession of a brown van and two LAPD cars passed by.
LAPD Passing Through
“Hey, look at that,” someone said.
“Doesn’t look like he’s going to stop for them, does it?” another asked.
We decided we’d tail along and see how it went. This is called “monitoring,” and it was a common practice that makes sense to every cop on earth other than the captain we worked for at the time and an arrogant LAPD lieutenant.
The van traveled at a speed below the posted limit, as did the LAPD cars with their flashing lights. I trailed from several hundred feet behind with neither emergency lights nor a sense of urgency. Sonny and Bobo also followed along. The driver of the van stopped for red lights and proceeded when they turned green. It was an odd situation that captured our interest on an otherwise boring night.
Monitoring the Failure to Yield
We switched to a car-to-car frequency and alerted the other units in our area that LAPD was following a failure to yield through our jurisdiction. We advised that we would continue to monitor until they cleared our area, in the event they needed our assistance.
About a mile or so into our area, the van turned south, remaining in our jurisdiction and actually going deeper into it. Shortly thereafter, the van turned onto Leota Street, which we knew dead-ended at the railroad tracks. LAPD wouldn’t know that, nor would they know that this was a gang-infested street where stolen cars were often dumped and from where violence was routinely reported. For the first time during this event, I began feeling an intensity about the situation.
I turned onto Leota and stopped. Sonny and Bobo pulled alongside our car. In a quick assessment of the situation, we all agreed that there was a good chance the driver would bail and run across the tracks, and LAPD would need us to help set up a containment. Again, they were unfamiliar with the area; of this we were certain.
Just as we discussed splitting up and starting to contain the area, we saw a commotion at the end of the street. The van drove over the curb, kicking up a cloud of dust, and then turned and drove directly at the LAPD cars that were pursuing it.
Pucker Factor Elevated
Tires squealed and motors raced and suddenly a burst of gunfire echoed through the night.
I saw the van coming at us, again pursued by LAPD units. There was no way for them to pass by us due to how we were situated in the street. From where we sat, it appeared the van had rammed into one or more of the LAPD units as it drove through the cluster of radio cars. Now it was coming at us.
I accelerated forward and swerved to the side of the road in one of the few spaces available in a long line of parked cars. Bobo, however, could only retreat rearward, so he did. But the van bore down on his car as he raced in reverse to avoid the suspect. The van caught up to Sonny and Bobo’s vehicle and rammed them.
More shots were fired as the driver of the van continued to use his vehicle as a deadly weapon. Sonny and my trainee both fired at the suspect while Bobo and I took evasive driving actions. Bobo lost control of his vehicle and struck a parked car. The suspect continued past them.
LAPD continued their pursuit. We again followed, and now the suspect drove at a high rate of speed. I announced over dispatch radio that we had been involved in a shooting and were pursuing the suspect. A timid watch commander insisted we return to the scene of the shooting and allow LAPD to continue their pursuit without our assistance. We did as we were ordered, though we were none too happy with the command.
Termination of Pursuit
The van had crashed shortly after we had terminated our involvement in the pursuit. LAPD captured the driver and apparently used force in making the arrest. They brought him to Firestone Station where they dropped him off and said he was all ours, since, after all, “the sheriffs had used deadly force against him.”
This LAPD lieutenant went on to deny that any of his officers had fired at the van. He expressed some displeasure with our involvement in their pursuit. I pointed out that he and his men were in our jurisdiction, and we would be remiss in not monitoring their activities in the event they needed assistance. He seemed unimpressed, so I took the opportunity to explain to him that although his department was large, and the city they patrolled was expansive, that truthfully LAPD was just one of more than forty such departments within our county. (The sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of the county.) The smug lieutenant didn’t like that too well.
No Good Deed
We were disciplined for being involved in an unauthorized pursuit, and for unsafe operations of motor vehicles. I contested the two-day suspension and written reprimand. I asked the captain why we bothered to patrol the streets if we weren’t expected to diligently observe and monitor all activity in our area that could bring trouble to its citizenry. Why not have us play cards in the station until the bell rang? We could then slide down a pole and go to work, like our friends with the shiny helmets.
The argument didn’t work either time, when I pled my case to the captain, or when I fought him all the way to an arbitration hearing before a judge.
The LAPD lieutenant had his revenge when he testified against me. Under oath, he testified that only “the sheriffs” had fired their weapons that night on Leota Street.
After the hearing, our gazes locked as I walked past him in the hallway, and struggled to hold my tongue. The lieutenant was first to look away. It isn’t easy for a liar to look an honest man in his eyes.
A Good Bunch of Men
Door to a Dark Room