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SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS SECTION: WATCHING CRIME HAPPEN : LAPD's Secret SIS Unit : Citizens Terrorized as Police Look On

September 25, 1988|DAVID FREED | Times Staff Writer

Relying in part on the California Public Records Act, The Times researched 32 SIS cases, each involving one or more suspects who were shot following surveillances. Police files, court records, autopsy reports and other related public materials were examined, while more than 200 police officers, crime victims, witnesses, criminals, prosecutors and defense attorneys were interviewed.

In all, The Times found that in 17 of the 32 cases examined, SIS detectives had apparent justification to arrest the criminals they were following before serious crimes were committed.

Instead, the detectives watched robberies or burglaries occur even though the criminals:

- Were already wanted on arrest warrants.

Take the case of paroled bank robbers Jane E. Berry, 36, and John H. Crumpton, 33. After being released from federal prison, the couple had been linked to five bank robberies in the San Fernando Valley. Each was wanted on federal felony warrants for parole violations. Crumpton, police knew, was particularly dangerous, having once served a prison term for shooting a gas station attendant during a robbery.

But instead of arresting Crumpton and Berry on the warrants, the SIS spent 18 days shadowing the couple. On Sept. 15, 1982, 13 detectives and an LAPD helicopter followed them as Crumpton stole a car. The detectives in their reports said they did not know it was stolen. The couple then drove to a Security Pacific Bank branch in Burbank, which they had robbed a month before.

Detectives watched Crumpton and Berry drive repeatedly past the bank, watched them park their own car behind a nearby apartment complex, then watched them drive the stolen car to the bank. The suspects parked behind the bank and detectives, according to their own reports, watched Crumpton and Berry put on masks and gloves--the same garb they had worn and had been photographed in during their robbery of the same bank two weeks before. Detectives, however, did not stop the couple from walking in and robbing the bank again.

When Berry, who was armed, and Crumpton, who was not, returned to the car they had parked earlier behind the apartment complex, four SIS detectives surprised them and ordered them to halt. When the pair turned in the officers' direction, according to police reports, the officers fired 18 times, killing Crumpton and wounding Berry. Berry never drew her weapon.

-Had been observed committing lesser crimes beforehand.

Take the case of roommates Robert L. Miller, 22, and Michael V. Moroney, 19, convicted felons suspected of robbing five liquor stores and delicatessens in the Van Nuys area over a three-week period.

On Jan. 26, 1969, after four days of surveillance, seven SIS detectives watched them steal a car. The thieves then drove it to a convenience store in Van Nuys. The detectives watched Miller and Moroney hide in the dark near the store while putting on ski caps. After eight minutes, the pair crept toward the door and put on masks. Miller drew a revolver and ordered the clerk to the floor, threatening to kill her if she moved. Moroney snatched her purse and $181 from the till.

Hidden in the darkness, SIS detectives waited until the robbers emerged, ordered them to halt and, according to reports, opened fire when Miller pointed his gun in their direction. Three detectives fired four shotgun and two revolver rounds. Both criminals were fatally wounded. They did not fire.

-Were clearly attempting armed robbery or burglary.

Take the case of William Garrett, 47, a paroled bank robber suspected of robbing five San Fernando Valley banks after his release from prison.

On July 6, 1977, 10 SIS detectives watched him case a savings and loan office in Sherman Oaks. Three SIS detectives set up an observation post in an apartment overlooking the bank; others continued to follow Garrett as he drove around the neighborhood.

Garrett parked periodically. At successive stops, the detectives watched him remove the front license plate of his car, drape a towel over the rear license, put on a wig and sunglasses, pull on clothing over the ones he was wearing, and pull a rifle or shotgun wrapped in a trash bag from his trunk. They waited while he stopped at two bars and watched him drive several times through the savings and loan's parking lot before parking outside the back door. They watched as he carefully put on surgical gloves, got out of his car while holding a shotgun behind his back and walk toward the door.

At this point, according to several legal experts interviewed by The Times, Garrett was guilty of attempted robbery and could have been arrested. Instead, the detectives did not move to stop him from entering the savings and loan. A police report said that the detectives did not have time to react because Garrett had parked so close to door.

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