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Police Arrest Suspect, 19, in Westwood Gang Slaying

February 07, 1988|CAROL McGRAW | Times Staff Writer

A 19-year-old reputed street gang member suspected of gunning down a Long Beach woman on a busy Westwood street last weekend was captured early Saturday during a sweep of nine locations throughout southern Los Angeles County, police said.

Durrel DeWitt Collins was rousted from his bed in a home in the 1300 block of West 58th Place and gave up without a struggle during the 7 a.m. raid, according to Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Billy Wedgeworth. About 64 officers participated in the early morning operation in which officers also arrested three alleged accomplices and seized 22 guns.

The arrest followed a week of divisive politics as leaders of West and South Los Angeles quarreled over whether authorities responded more vigorously to the gang murder in the affluent Westwood neighborhood than they have to 114 gang-related slayings last year in the predominantly poor South-Central community.

Link Gun to Slaying

Investigators received nearly 60 tips from witnesses and informants regarding the slaying, Wedgeworth, who heads the West Bureau, said at a news conference. He said the suspect was identified by piecing together some of those accounts with physical evidence. In addition, authorities said they have found a .38-caliber handgun they described as the murder weapon.

Police searched residences in Los Angeles, Inglewood, Long Beach and Carson because Collins, who used several aliases, was known to frequent several of the places. Wedgeworth would not say whether Collins has an arrest record, but said his name is on file with the LAPD as a known gang member.

Karen Toshima, 27, a Long Beach graphic artist, was fatally shot in the head when fighting broke out Jan. 30 among gang members on Broxton Avenue near Weyburn Avenue. Toshima, who had studied graphics arts at Cal State Long Beach and worked for a Studio City advertising agency, had gone to Westwood Village with a friend.

Wedgeworth described the shooting as a "typical gang incident" in which an innocent bystander is mowed down.

"Gang members evidently started out staring each other down, and then there were some words and physical altercations, and then a guy threw a milk carton from across the street, and out came the gun. Pop! pop! pop!" said Wedgeworth, describing how Toshima got caught in the gunfire.

Collins, who was booked on suspicion of murder, was being held at the West Bureau and will probably be arraigned early this week. Police planned a lineup for witnesses today or Monday.

An adult male and two juvenile boys, who police said were also members of the same unidentified street gang, were also being held as accessories to the murder. The name of the adult suspect was not released, Wedgeworth said, "because he might end up being a better witness than suspect."

A man who was staying at the Compton-area house where one of the juveniles was arrested, recounted the scene of the early morning raid.

'Guns Everywhere'

"I was laying in bed and peeped out and the cops were banging on the door. I opened the door and there were guns everywhere," said the man, who asked not to be identified. "They put us in handcuffs and they took him (the juvenile) off."

The man said the boy had been in Westwood the night of Toshima's murder, and had been arrested with a group of other youths, then was released several hours later. "They said they wanted him as a witness," he said.

After the shooting, police beefed up patrols in the Westwood area from six to 20 officers, and assigned 30 officers to the investigation. The aggressive response was criticized by some South Los Angeles citizens' groups and political leaders, who charged that similar action is not taken when citizens in minority and poor neighborhoods are killed.

"Unfortunately," said Councilman Robert Farrell, "there is a perception that a life lost in South L.A. or East L.A. does not measure up to a life lost somewhere else."

Chief Responds

Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and others responded heatedly that such special task forces are a police tactic used throughout the city, and that media attention had blown the case out of proportion. The City Council is due to continue examing police deployment practices this week.

After Saturday's arrest, Wedgeworth said, the Westwood patrols will continue "as long as necessary" to ensure safety in the busy, fashionable neighborhood.

On Saturday night, 20 police officers and four sergeants were on patrol in the Village. There were no gang-related activities reported in the area or arrests made by 9 p.m., police said. "It's quiet," said Officer Joseph Hager. "There have been no problems."

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