Los Angeles: Police Murders
October 1996-October 1997
Revolutionary Worker #929, October 26, 1997
When Abner Louima was brutally tortured in a South Brooklyn police station, on August 9, 1997, the L.A. Times ran a headline, "Brutality Focus Now on NYPD." A week later, police in Bell Gardens south of L.A. killed Alfieri Shiraia because he "didn't raise his hands."
Many more lives have been stolen in the months since the first historic National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality on October 22, 1996. The following names are police murders from October 1996-October 1997 in Los Angeles and nearby areas in southern California.
November 14, 1996: The police SWAT team in Santa Ana, south of Los Angeles in Orange County, shot Ronald G. Theander. He was standing on his rooftop with a rifle and had fired a few shots, without hitting anyone. The police said he shot at them when they arrived. He was killed by concentrated fire from several cops, including the SWAT team. The police said there was "no chance" to talk to him.
December 22, 1996: Seventeen-year-old Aleim Ortiz was walking down an alleyway in West Los Angeles when an LAPD black-and-white rolled up on him. The cops say Aleim pulled a pistol from his pocket and shot one of the cops, who later died. The other cop shot and killed Aleim Ortiz. None of his friends witnessed the killing. They described Aleim, who had a girlfriend and a young daughter, as "peaceful."
December 24, 1996: On Christmas Eve, two sisters, Angela Chimienti, 19, and Serafina Chimienti, 25, were shot and killed by former cop Edward Vizcarra. He killed the two sisters because Angela, his ex-girlfriend, had broken up with him.
January 28, 1997: Hector Islas was 33 when he was killed by Riverside police. The cops say Hector ran when they tried to stop him. Hector was brutally beaten to death. Many bones in his body were broken by police clubs. None of the cops who killed him have been prosecuted. The police still don't say why they stopped him in the first place. The death of Hector Islas shattered his family, who recently have begun to protest this brutal and cold-blooded murder.
February 8, 1997: Juan Ramirez, a 35-year-old resident of the L.A. suburb of El Monte, was shot to death by L.A. County Sheriffs deputies in the early morning. The sheriffs say Juan attacked them with a stick and so they shot him.
Mid-February, 1997: Two weeks after the police murder of Hector Islas, another Chicano, Tomás Ochoa, was killed by Riverside, California police. Tomás was making a call from a phone booth in the parking lot of a hotel. He called his mother because he had been drinking. Tomás was an epileptic and drinking sometimes caused seizures. His mother agreed to pick him up. But while Tomás was waiting, he fell asleep. The hotel manager called the police about a man sleeping in the parking lot. The police arrived and shot and killed Tomás Ochoa, saying he "reached for his waistband."
February 25, 1997: Officers from the Special Investigation Section (SIS) of the LAPD opened fire on a car full of people on a dead-end residential street in the San Fernando Valley area of L.A. They killed three people in the car: Kim Benton, Kirk Deffebaugh and Eric Fields, all of them in their early twenties. The police say one person in the car escaped, and they later arrested Michael Smith. The only version of the killing comes from the police themselves. They said they were following a car from the scene of a robbery in a night club, when someone in the car pointed a gun at the police. The police said they then opened fire. The shooting was so intense that several houses on the street were hit by police bullets. But no police were wounded, and the cops don't even say that the people in the car fired a single shot. Although articles in the mainstream press called it a "shootout," it was a one-sided, cowardly execution.
The police almost killed a fourth person that night. As heavily armed cops roamed the area, they saw 20-year-old Grover Smith (not related to Michael Smith) walking down the street in front of his house and opened fire with shotguns. Grover Smith suffered multiple pellet wounds to his legs. Police said later that he "fit the description" of the man who escaped from the car they shot up and he "reached for his waistband." According to neighbors, Grover saw all the cops around and was walking very carefully with both hands visible when the police shot him without warning.
The SIS has been called a death squad by civil rights lawyers because of the tactics it uses. SIS officers follow people who have been accused of armed robbery and wait until their targets are in a vulnerable situation, like leaving the scene of an armed robbery, and then confront them with shotguns and other heavy weapons. According to anti-police-brutality lawyers, they have shot hundreds of people and killed 44. Even by the LAPD's own records, SIS officers have shot more people per cop than any other LAPD unit.
February 27, 1997: Emil Matasareanu, 30, was one of two robbers who tried to steal money from a bank in North Hollywood. This robbery became famous because the robbers, who were wearing bulletproof vests, shot back at the LAPD and wounded several officers. Emil Matasareanu was shot by the police in a nearby neighborhood. He was disarmed and handcuffed in the street. The police refused to let paramedics treat him for over an hour as he slowly bled to death.
March 18, 1997: A Black LAPD officer was shot to death by another cop under suspicious circumstances in the Studio City area of L.A. Kevin L. Gaines, 31, was driving along Cahuenga Boulevard, a major street in the San Fernando Valley. He was off-duty, and dressed in his own clothes. According to the first version released by the police, Kevin Gaines exchanged words with a white undercover officer driving an unmarked car and then pulled a gun. The officer shot twice, hitting the off-duty officer and killing him. Kevin Gaines' family said that, as a Black man, he had been harassed by the police before. White cops had told Gaines that he shouldn't drive such a nice car. Kevin Gaines himself filed a complaint after an August 1996 incident involving himself and his girlfriend, Sharitha Knight--the estranged wife of Death Row Records' Suge Knight, himself a target of the LAPD. On August 16, 1996, the cops went to Sharitha Knight's house in North Hollywood, handcuffed Kevin Gaines and took him to the North Hollywood police station. The white officer who killed him may have known exactly who Kevin Gaines was. A Black police officers association has also disputed the official version of this police killing. Physical evidence also points to a police coverup. Kevin Gaines was left-handed. But the cop who shot him said Kevin pointed a gun at him with his right hand.
March 19, 1997: James B. Butler was shot several times by a retired Santa Ana cop working as a bank security guard. The security guard opened fire on James after he pulled a gun inside a bank in the city of Orange, in Orange County. He died two days later. The guard also died when his victim shot back.
March 21, 1997: An unarmed man, Gregory Franklin Brandon, 34, was killed by Los Angeles County Sheriffs in Lynwood, California because he didn't raise his hands fast enough. The cops stopped Gregory Brandon in a strip mall on Imperial Highway. They had no reason to stop him, except that he was "running." Gregory stopped when the sheriffs told him to, and raised one hand, but they shot and killed him anyway. According to the cops, Gregory had a plastic collection box with change in it that had been stolen from the counter of a restaurant.
April 25, 1997: A 13-year-old, whose name has not been widely publicized, was shot and killed by the LAPD in South Central L.A. The cops started chasing the young man as he left a liquor store. The victim ran about a block before falling and being caught by the cops. They later said that he had a gun, and pressed the barrel, not the muzzle, against the face of one of the cops, who then shot the young man twice in the chest, killing him.
April 26, 1997: An unidentified man was shot and killed for jaywalking in the L.A. County area of Valinda, in the San Gabriel Valley east of L.A. A cop from the West Covina PD confronted the man for jaywalking on a Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. While the officer was talking to the man, he ran away. The cop chased and caught him. The alleged jaywalker was on the ground when he was shot and killed. The police said the officer spotted "a bulge" in the man's waistband, which turned out to be a bible.
May 16, 1997: Simon Valasquez lived in the San Fernando Valley area of Panorama City. He got worried when he noticed men sitting in parked cars across the street from his apartment. The men were LAPD officers, supposedly staking out one of his neighbors' houses. Simon left his apartment and walked up to one of the cars. He stuck an old sawed-off shotgun in his waistband to discourage any attackers. The shotgun was for show, didn't work and wasn't loaded. A neighbor later told reporters that the 22-year-old Simon was worried about the safety of his girlfriend and three young children. The cops shot and killed Simon--his family said he was shot many times, including two or three times in the back. Despite his fatal wounds, he managed to stumble back to his building and collapse. As his girlfriend ran to help him, the police pulled her off and beat her.
July 23, 1997: According to police reports, police tried to pull over Terry James Parker for speeding. Terry did not stop; he drove home and ran inside. He then opened the door and shot at the cops, hitting one of them (Casillas). He then fled his house and stopped to buy cigarettes and then hid near a tennis court. According to the police, they approached the bushes he was hiding in and heard a shot. The three cops immediately began firing at him. The cops say that Terry shot himself in the mouth and then they shot him right afterward multiple times. One of Officer Casillas' friends said that "As long as he [Terry] is dead, I don't really care how he gotg that way." Terry's father had said earlier that his son thought the police had a conspiracy against him.
Mid-August, 1997: Police in Bell Gardens, south of L.A., killed Alfieri Shiraia. The cops were serving a warrant on Alfieri and according to the police department's own spokesperson, he "didn't raise his hands" so the cops shot and killed him.
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