Two Los Angeles Police officers taking part in a search for an escaped narcotics suspect were accidentally shot by fellow officers Friday during a burst of gunfire inside a Skid Row area apartment house.
A man working in a building across the street from the apartment also sustained a bullet wound from a police revolver.
Police said the shooting occurred after a man who had been arrested on a suspected drug violation escaped from custody and ran into the Stanford Apartments in the 600 block of South Stanford Avenue. The man was still at large late Friday.
"Obviously, this kind of thing should not have happened," Police Chief Daryl F. Gates told reporters outside the apartment building. Gunfire resulted because "procedures were not followed that should have been followed," he said.
An investigation by the Police Department's officer-involved shooting team could result in "appropriate administrative action," according to a written department statement released after the incident.
Officer Carlos Torres, 24, sustained bullet wounds in his right hip and leg and was admitted to County-USC Medical Center. Officer Leo Turner, 31, was hit by gunfire in the upper body, but he was wearing a bullet-proof vest and escaped injury. Both officers are 3 1/2-year veterans, police said.
Gerald Hilsey, 40, an employee of the Salvation Army's men's social center across the street from the apartment building, was treated at County-USC for a bullet wound in his right leg and released.
The incident began shortly before 11 a.m., when two plainclothes officers on stakeout saw a drug transaction taking place across the street from the apartment house, police said.
A man suspected of being involved in the drug deal was arrested by the undercover officers, handcuffed, and placed in the back seat of a patrol car.
The two plainclothes officers, meanwhile, searched the handcuffed suspect's car, which was parked on the street.
"When they were searching his car, the guy jumped out of the back of the police car," said witness Ray Moody, 48, who was attending an auction at the Salvation Army yard. "We hollered at the officers. But the guy in the back of the car split. He was still cuffed."
Ran Into Building
Police spokesman Lt. Dan Cooke said the suspect, who may have been released from the car by another man, ran into the apartment house, a yellow-painted brick building in an industrial area near Downtown's Skid Row.
The plainclothes officers radioed for backup help, Cooke said.
When uniformed officers arrived, police conducted a floor-by-floor search of the three-story building.
Cooke said the shooting began when one of the undercover officers, accompanied by a uniformed sergeant, entered a dimly lit hallway on the third floor and encountered a team of uniformed officers already in the process of searching the area.
Around the Corner
"The other officers were down the hallway when these two (undercover) officers were just coming to the corner," Cooke said. "(One plainclothes officer) had his gun out, and he was coming to the corner of the hallway. The only thing the uniformed officers could see from around the corner was his hand and the gun coming around the corner.
"They fired the first shots, thinking that was one of the two suspects they were looking for."
Without looking, the plainclothes officer, whose name was not released, turned his gun at a 90-degree angle around the corner and emptied his weapon in the direction of the patrolmen, Cooke said, adding that "both sides were shooting at the same time."
Only Two Involved
Cooke said that apparently only two officers were involved in the shooting, with the plainclothes officer emptying his gun and the uniformed officer firing three rounds.
Witness Moody said he heard about 15 shots.
A stray bullet, apparently fired by the uniformed officer, penetrated a door down the hallway and continued across the street and through the window on the third floor of the Salvation Army warehouse, where it struck Hilsey in the leg.
Cooke said neither officer involved in the shooting was looking in the direction they were firing.
"If they could have seen, they wouldn't have fired," he said, referring to conditions in the dim hallway.
A search of the building after the shooting failed to turn up the handcuffed suspect or his suspected accomplice, police said.
Times staff writers Jerry Belcher and Boris Yaro contributed to this article.