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2 Held in Shooting of Long Beach Police Officer

August 08, 1993|CARLA HALL and FAYE FIORE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A Long Beach police officer who was shot in the head during a routine traffic stop remained in critical condition Saturday as authorities announced the arrests of two men they believe gunned him down to free a motorist the officer was holding in his patrol car.

One hundred officers from six local, state and federal law enforcement agencies converged on a 10-block area of North Long Beach immediately after Officer Abel Dominguez--31 years old and the father of three--was shot while operating the computer console in his patrol car.

Anthony Sims and Cashus Ward, both 21, were taken into custody about 11 p.m. in an apartment in a shabby complex down the block from where Dominguez was shot. The arrests came nine hours after the shooting, the worst assault on a Long Beach police officer in 18 years.

"We have strong evidence to suggest one of them is the shooter," Long Beach Police Officer Margarita DeWitt said. Police did not elaborate on the nature of the evidence or who pulled the trigger, but they did provide new details Saturday of how the shooting unfolded.

The officer was patrolling near 49th Street and Grisham Avenue, a low-income neighborhood plagued by drug dealers, when a routine check of a motorist's license plate turned up several traffic warrants. Dominguez detained the driver and held him in the back seat of his patrol car for safety reasons, DeWitt said. Dominguez was apparently operating his console computer when a gunman approached from the passenger side and fired several times through the front window. A third man freed the driver from the back seat and the three fled, police said.

Dazed and wounded, Dominguez drove several feet into a wall as bystanders ran to his aid. He was hit in the right forearm and right side of his head; a third shot to the chest was deflected by his bulletproof vest.

Dominguez was rushed to Long Beach Memorial Medical Center as scores of law enforcement officials--local police, federal immigration officers, even parole officers--pressed their door-to-door search until 3 a.m. Sims and Ward were taken into custody in a two-bedroom apartment on West 49th Street belonging to Cher Lanni, 24.

Besides the two suspects, five other people were being questioned by police but had not been charged, DeWitt said.

Witnesses initially described the gunman as wearing a black T-shirt with a design resembling the cover of an Ice-T album that features the controversial song "Cop Killer." But police said they knew nothing of any such attire.

Investigators released only scant information about the suspects pending further investigation. But Lanni described Sims as the doting father of a young daughter and stepdaughter who spends much of his time "just standing outside on the corner." She said Ward was "just one of the neighborhood guys."

"They're young; they just hang out around the girls," Lanni said, offering the following account of the afternoon the five-year police officer was critically wounded:

Lanni, a beautician, said she spent Friday morning working on Sims' hair, and left him with her 5-week-old boy while she drove to a 7-Eleven.

Ward arrived as she was walking out. Ten minutes or so later, she returned to hear neighbors talking about someone being shot. Ward and Sims were in her apartment drinking beer. When she mentioned a shooting, they went to the window to look. Hours passed and police cars crawled around the neighborhood. They turned on the nightly television newscast to find out more about the shooting when an order came over the police loudspeaker for Lanni to vacate her apartment.

Leaving the baby behind, she crawled down the steps as police had instructed her to do and was taken to a police station. The baby was placed in protective custody. Sims and Ward were arrested.

Police searched the apartment for a weapon that as of Saturday had not been found. Lanni said she was released by police about 6 a.m. Saturday and returned to find her two-bedroom apartment a shambles--wires exposed, stereo speakers dismantled, clothes in a heap, a mirrored medicine chest ripped from the wall.

"They broke everything. My TV, my stereo. I don't have anything left," Lanni said tearfully of the police search. "I'm on (welfare). I've got four kids. How am I going to replace this?"

Meanwhile, Dominguez's vital signs were reported to be stable as doctors kept him in a medically induced coma to preserve his brain functions.

Sims and Ward were booked on suspicion of attempted murder and the lynching of a prisoner, a legal term that means freeing someone who is in custody. Their arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday.

The shooting comes less than six months after two Compton police officers were shot to death in the line of duty. The last serious attack against a Long Beach police officer was the 1975 shooting death of Robert Ray Birdsall, killed during a nighttime search for a kidnaping suspect in Signal Hill.

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