Donell Hatcher's new gun was ready for New Year's Eve. From the porch of his Venice home, Los Angeles police said, the 23-year-old man took aim in the general direction of the Pacific Ocean and fired two rounds Friday morning.
The 9-millimeter automatic handgun worked just fine. But, according to police, the gun's owner didn't count on two startled patrolman rounding the corner of Broadway Avenue at just that moment.
Hatcher was immediately arrested, only three days after Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates announced a major crackdown on holiday shooters, authorities said.
"He was taken into custody, with a receipt for the gun still in hand," Police Lt. Wallace Graves said. "He had just picked up the weapon this morning, and, by his own admission, was testing it in preparation for New Year's Eve.
Alarmed that New Year's Eve random gunfire has taken at least six lives and injured numerous others in Los Angeles since 1986, Gates said Tuesday that his department would get tough on shooters.
By Friday, Hatcher became the sixth man this holiday season to be arrested on suspicion of negligently discharging a firearm, according to LAPD spokesman Cmdr. William Booth. The other five were arrested on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for firing weapons into the air. Booth said felony charges will be sought against all of them. If convicted, each could face up to a year in prison.
Using neighborhood posters, flyers in English and Spanish, and a media blitz, authorities throughout much of Southern California have tried to alert the public to the fact that a bullet fired into the air will come down with lethal force.
Beyond the educational campaign, Los Angeles police plan to have special patrols aiming to nab anyone who randomly fires guns during the last weekend of 1989.
As for Hatcher, the young man apparently didn't think firing into the air "was that big a deal. . . . Like most folks, he is just unaware of what could happen," Graves said.
"He said he was firing in a westerly direction at the ocean," Graves said. "However, he failed to take into account the possibly of boaters and people at the beach."
Even if Hatcher is able to raise the $5,000 bond needed to spring him from LAPD's Pacific Division lockup by New Year's Eve, he won't have his 9-millimeter back.
"We're keeping it for evidence," Graves said.