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Shootout Victim Had Fled Inside : Inquiry: Howard Martin was killed when a bullet fired by police ricocheted into the apartment were he had sought refuge, D.A.'s investigator says.

April 04, 1993|EDMUND NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PASADENA — A man killed by an errant police bullet during civil disturbances in Northwest Pasadena last year had actually fled indoors to escape the street violence, a district attorney's investigator said.

Howard Eugene Martin, 22, was killed in the midst of a chaotic late-night shootout between Pasadena officers and alleged gang members on May 2, three days after a Simi Valley jury returned not guilty verdicts in the case of four Los Angeles police officers charged with beating Rodney G. King of Altadena.

Pasadena police had just broken up a large party when they began exchanging shots with an unidentified assailant. Deputy Dist. Atty. Eloise Phillips said Thursday that Martin and others fled to a second-floor apartment at 1279 N. Los Robles Ave.

Martin died instantly after a ricocheting police bullet penetrated a wall in the apartment, near North Los Robles Avenue and Claremont Street, striking him in the forehead.

These and other new details of the incident emerged last week when Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti released the results of Phillips' investigation.

The report exonerated police in Martin's death, finding that they acted in the reasonable exercise of self-defense.

Carl Douglas, a lawyer who represents Martin's family, said they will continue with a negligence suit against the city of Pasadena and its Police Department.

"There's no question that Howard Martin's death was a mistake and that it justifies compensation for the family," Douglas said.

Initial reports had said that Martin was killed while standing on a balcony.

"He and others had all sought refuge in the house," Phillips said in an interview.

During the shooting, 10 police officers fired more than 100 rounds in various directions, raising the possibility that they may have been firing at each other, Phillips said. But further investigation suggested there were two groups of armed assailants, one on either side of Los Robles Avenue, she said.

"When I heard that they were firing in several directions, my first reaction was, 'They (the police) were shooting at each other,' " Phillips said. But after mapping out the location of each police shooter and the direction in which he was shooting, Phillips said, it became clear that all were aiming roughly in a northerly direction.

"There was no way that any officer could have been in the line of fire of any other officer," she said.

Civilian witnesses said there appeared to be someone shooting toward the police from in front of the building where Martin and the others had fled, Phillips added.

The bullet that killed Martin was determined to be from the weapon of Officer Mariano Vindiola, who told investigators that he fired 14 rounds toward the building after seeing five or six muzzle flashes. Investigators said the bullet ricocheted into the apartment.

Three other people sustained minor injuries during the shootout, including a police helicopter pilot who was hit in the neck by a fragment after a bullet exploded in the cabin of the aircraft.

City Councilman Chris Holden, who represents the district in which the shooting took place, questioned the effectiveness of the police reaction.

"I'm concerned that there were bullets flying all over the place, striking helicopters, going through windows and ricocheting all over the neighborhood," Holden said.

"It's hard to make the call. I wasn't there. But if there are 200 people around and you see flashes, how do you deal with something like that? I'm surprised that, with 100 rounds fired, no one else was hit."

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