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Prosecution of 2 Officers Requested

July 08, 1993|PHILIP P. PAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WEST COVINA — Family members of a man shot in the back 28 times by two West Covina SWAT officers during a 1991 police raid have asked federal authorities to prosecute two policemen involved.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office last month dropped the case against Officers Michael Schrock and Neal Hopkins, who fired the shots killing Darryl Stephens, 27, two years ago.

The district attorney's office said a 20-month investigation of the shooting did not uncover enough evidence to file criminal charges against the officers.

The family hopes to meet with Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti this week and urge him to reverse the decision and file charges.

The SWAT team raided Stephens' apartment at night, with a search warrant, during the investigation of the "mall murders" case in 1991. Stephens was not a suspect and was unarmed when he was shot. The officers said they fired in self-defense because they thought Stephens had grabbed a gun.

"I'm shocked, disgusted. I feel like my son got murdered, and nothing's going to be done about it," said Antonio Curtis, Stephens' father. "I just can't let this rest. It would be an injustice to my son if I let this get swept under the rug."

Curtis said the district attorney's 18-page report on the incident was full of "inconsistencies, cover-ups and lies by the Police Department." He said the report contains enough evidence against the officers to justify a trial.

Johnnie Cochran, the family's attorney, said he asked federal officials last week to prosecute the two officers for violating Stephens' civil rights. The FBI has not completed its investigation of the shooting.

"This is an outrageous killing set up by a cowboy, out-of-control Police Department, and they are going to have to pay for this," Cochran said.

"We are definitely going to fight this until the end, and we are definitely going to win. These cops deserve to go to trial for murder, because that's what it was," said Melissa Stephens, the dead man's sister.

West Covina police said they raided Stephens' apartment because they believed his roommate had hidden a shotgun there that was used to kill one of five victims who were abducted from malls and ATM machines in the San Gabriel Valley. The roommate was not a suspect in the slayings.

Police also said that the day before the raid, Stephens had threatened to kill police officers if they entered his apartment.

According to the district attorney's report, Schrock and Hopkins found Stephens lying face down on the bed when they entered his bedroom. His right arm was under his body and his left arm was under a blanket hanging from the side of the bed.

The report said an audiotape recording made by police indicated that Stephens apparently said "OK" when the officers told him to stay down.

Schrock then shouted, "Let me see your hands!" The officers fired their automatic weapons in the next second, according to the report's transcript of the tape.

Officers later found a .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol in the bedroom closet.

The report described the incident as a "problematic shooting" and noted that the officers failed to order Stephens to freeze.

Family members said the tape is a powerful piece of evidence which proves that Stephens was simply following police orders when he was shot. The raid was recorded because the sling on a SWAT member's weapon was lying across the on button of his radio microphone.

Leisha Williams-Curtis, Stephens' stepmother, said the final report was riddled with unanswered questions because West Covina police officers gave differing versions of what happened.

Williams-Curtis said she was not surprised that the district attorney was not pursuing the case. "We know how the system works against cases like this, but we were hoping against hope that this would be different," she said.

Family members said they were angry because the West Covina Police Department has never apologized and has never admitted making a mistake. "The Police Department still shows no remorse. They think they're above the law," Curtis said.

As he discussed his son's death, Curtis alternated between anger at the Police Department and grief over his loss. "It's hard to explain how I feel. It's a strain on me. Any father or mother that loses a kid understands it's hard to talk about," he said, his voice cracking.

Curtis, the 50-year-old director of boxing at The Forum in Inglewood, said he called the district attorney's office twice a month for the past 20 months for updates on the investigation.

He said he feels worse now that the office closed the case. "At least there was hope when they were doing the investigation. Now, it's at a standstill," he said. "It's always going to bother me."

Stephens' family followed the trial of the two men and two women arrested for the "mall murders" and were happy to see them convicted last year. The five murders and kidnapings in the San Gabriel Valley in the summer of 1991 received wide publicity.

"If Darryl didn't live in the same apartment complex with those people, he might still be alive," Williams-Curtis said.

Family members were also upset that the Police Department characterized Stephens as a dangerous gang member.

Stephens was convicted and sentenced for two felonies as an adult, for first-degree burglary in 1984 and for possession of cocaine in 1989. He also had a juvenile record.

Carol Bulgin, Stephens' mother, said her son had a full-time warehouse job and had not been arrested during the two years before his death. "They just tried to turn it around and make it look like Darryl caused his own death and deserved to die. That boy was only 27, and he had turned his life around," she said.

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