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Restaurant That Was Site of 4 Murders Is Shut Down

June 18, 1989|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

PARAMOUNT — The murals on the restaurant walls depicted peaceful beach scenes. The sounds of mariachi music could be heard on the jukebox.

But the peaceful setting belied dozens of incidents of violence, including four murders, that police have investigated on the premises of Las Playas Restaurant the last two years.

Sheriff's deputies have been called to the restaurant to break up fights and to investigate reports of stolen cars and of robberies of both the restaurant and patrons, said Robert Robinson, city director of public safety.

Last week, city officials declared the 24-hour restaurant a public nuisance and shut it down. It is the first time the city has taken such action against a restaurant, said Patrick West, deputy city manager.

Latest Killing in March

Four young men have been killed there since June, 1987. Three were killed this year, half the total number of murders in the city so far in 1989, Robinson said. The last slaying occurred in March.

Two of the four victims were shot and killed inside the building. Two were killed in the parking lot.

Officials say the problems began after Jose R. Acevedo purchased the restaurant at 8335 E. Rosecrans Blvd. about two years ago. "There was another restaurant there for about 40 years and we never had those types of problems," Robinson said.

"He attracts a certain kind of clientele. People that are drunk and rowdy are allowed into the place," Robinson said.

But Acevedo said city officials are being unfair. He said he reported any crimes that he was aware of.

Another Restaurant

"If someone dies, it is not my fault," said Acevedo, 45. He said he has another restaurant in the Southeast area but refused to say where it is. The other restaurant has not had similar problems, he said.

Acevedo is appealing to the City Council to reconsider.

"I'm asking the city for another chance not only for myself but for the 21 employees that are out of work because I had to close," Acevedo said.

Attorneys for Acevedo have sent a letter to officials asking that the restaurant be allowed to operate 14 hours--from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.--rather than 24 hours a day, said Herman Sillas, one of Acevedo's lawyers.

"The restaurant attracted two crowds, a family crowd and a bar-hour crowd where the problem seems to be," Sillas said.

"The murders occurred in the early morning hours. If we closed down at 10 p.m. we would not be attracting that element," Sillas said.

Paramount City Atty. Maurice O'Shea said city ordinances carry no provision for such an appeal. Mayor Henry Harkema said he doubted if council members would agree to review the case.

"I'm convinced we did the right thing. People are pleased. The rampant shooting that occurred there could have hit anybody in the neighborhood," Harkema said.

On June 6, the City Council voted 4-1 to declare the restaurant a public nuisance and ordered its business license revoked. Councilman Charles R. Weldon cast the dissenting vote.

The restaurant, which serves Mexican-style seafood, was across the street from Paramount High School and near a small shopping center. A low-income neighborhood of small homes also is nearby.

Robinson, the public safety director, said city officials started paying close attention to the activities at the restaurant after Miguel Garcia, 22, of Paramount was shot and killed at 4:40 a.m., Jan 22, during an argument with another man, said sheriff's homicide detective Ron Riordan.

The most recent murder occurred March 24, 1989. The body of Efraim Meraz, 22, of Compton was discovered in the restaurant parking lot at 6:45 a.m. He had been shot several times.

No suspects are in custody in any of the shootings.

An analysis of criminal activity at the restaurant revealed that there had been 48 criminal complaints since June, 1987, Robinson said. These complaints included robberies of patrons, a restaurant robbery, car thefts, and assaults, Robinson said.

Sillas, Acevedo's lawyer, said it was uncertain what legal steps would be taken if the council turns down his client's request to reopen the restaurant.

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