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SIS Officers Accused in $10-Million Civil Suit : Police: 6 retired and current members of controversial squad are accused of violating rights of 2 bank robbers by wounding one and killing the other, who was unarmed.

June 04, 1990|SHERYL STOLBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At the time the surveillance began on July 26, Berry and Crumpton were on parole from federal prison and a warrant had been issued for Berry for violating her parole, according to testimony from her former parole officer. In August, a similar warrant was issued for Crumpton's arrest. But Ostrom and Marine, the retired SIS officers who supervised the surveillance, testified they never checked whether Berry and Crumpton were wanted.

On the day of the shooting, testimony showed, Berry and Crumpton injected themselves with a mixture of cocaine and heroin. SIS detectives watched them as they left a motel in the Silver Lake area and followed them while they repeatedly cased the bank in separate cars--a white Volkswagen Beetle and a brown Chevrolet Corvair, which they had stolen from the Sherman Oaks Galleria. They saw Berry put on her wig and also watched as the pair left the Volkswagen in the carport of a nearby apartment complex and drove off in the Corvair to rob the bank.

Several of the detective testified that they did not know until just "8 seconds" before the robbery--when Crumpton and Berry put on their Halloween masks--that it was going to occur, and decided it would be safer to arrest the couple when they returned to the carport to ditch the stolen Corvair.

Said Marine, who acted as field supervisor that day: "I felt there was less chance for civilians to be involved in the situation should a shooting occur, and I felt that was a possibility."

The four officers who did the shooting--Cadena, Niles, Brooks and Sirk--each testified that Berry and Crumpton refused to stop when they were ordered to, and that they either saw Berry reach for her gun, or believed she had. "My opinion," Niles said, "was when she attempted to draw the weapon, she was attempting to open fire."

But James Fyfe, a criminal justice professor at American University in Washington who testified as an expert for Berry, told the jury that he believed the officers had repeatedly violated accepted standards of police practice and had, in effect, created a set of circumstances in which there was bound to be a shooting.

"If police had just taken the step of checking out their records," Fyfe testified, "the case would have ended then and there."

Throughout the trial last week, Berry, now 43, sat attentively at the plaintiff's table, often clutching a tissue to wipe away tears. With long, blonde hair and glasses, dressed on some days in a hot pink dress, and on others in a blue dress and flowered jacket, she hardly fit the picture of a hardened bank robber who is serving 15 years at the California Institution for Women at Frontera.

In an interview outside the courtroom, Berry said she accepts full responsibility for her crimes. Asked why she is bringing the suit, her answer reflected a greater regard for Crumpton than for herself.

"I believe that someone should take responsibility for killing him," she said simply. "It has nothing to do with me at all."

Also seeking to avenge Crumpton's death are his three sisters--Diane Ollis, Patricia Lee and Gloria Polk--who have attended the trial each day. They are raising Berry and Crumpton's child, who just turned 7. The boy, represented by Yagman, also is suing the SIS, although that case was dismissed by Wilson and is now on appeal.

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