Two policemen and a civilian accidentally were shot in a fusillade of bullets today when a squad of officers pursued a suspect who had escaped from undercover narcotics agents into a downtown apartment house.
The suspect, wearing handcuffs when he fled, was still at large this afternoon.
Police Chief Daryl Gates said at the scene: "We had a policeman shoot a policeman. How it happened, I can't tell you." He also confirmed that a civilian in a building across the street was hit by a police bullet.
A witness on the street at the time said he heard at least 15 shots.
The civilian was working in the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center across the street from a three-story apartment house at 660 S. Stanford Ave. when he was hit by a stray bullet.
One officer was wearing a bulletproof vest and did not require medical treatment. The other, Carlos Torres, 24, was wounded in the thigh and right side.
The civilian, Gerald Hilsey, 40, was wounded in the right thigh.
Both were taken to County-USC Medical Center, where they were reported in fair condition.
The witness, Dan Moody, told a reporter that two plainclothes policemen had arrested a suspect, handcuffed him and put him in the back seat of their patrol car and then gone to the suspect's auto nearby and were searching it.
Suddenly, Moody said, the suspect jumped out of the patrol car and dashed into the apartment building. Moody said he and another witness "hollered at the officers" to let them know the suspect had escaped.
Lt. Dan Cooke, police spokesman, confirmed most of Moody's story, but said a second man, possibly an accomplice of the handcuffed man, had gone to the patrol car and let the suspect out of the vehicle while the two undercover officers were intent on searching the other auto.
The two narcotics officers radioed for help and "a large number" of uniformed officers arrived shortly before 11 a.m. and entered the building.
There was a flurry of shots a short time later.
Maj. Joseph Viola of the Salvation Army said Hilsey was working in the third-floor upholstery shop of the rehabilitation center when he was hit by a slug.
"The bullet, I guess, came through the window," Viola said. "I think the man who fired it was on the roof across the street."