WOODLAND HILLS — A suspected burglar was shot in the face and killed Wednesday during a struggle for a police officer's gun, which had fallen to the street after the officer tackled the man during a chase, investigators said.
The suspect, who remains unidentified, died in the intersection of Burbank Boulevard and Shoup Avenue, where he lay in a pool of blood for more than four hours after the 5:40 a.m. shooting.
Lt. William Hall, who heads investigations of officer-involved shootings for the Los Angeles Police Department, said the suspect was gripping the handle and apparently had his finger on the trigger of Officer John Backus' .38-caliber service revolver when the weapon discharged. Hall said investigators are looking into whether the suspect fired the pistol or whether it went off accidentally during the struggle.
Backus, a 44-year-old veteran assigned to the West Valley Division, was able to grab the gun's muzzle and point it away from himself, Hall said. According to police, the incident began to unfold about 5:30 a.m. when a woman screamed upon hearing a window shatter at her home in the 6200 block of Shoup Avenue. She dialed 911, and a neighbor, dressed only in pants, began to chase a man, Hall said.
Backus and his partner, Dave Jacoby, 40, who were cruising in the area, joined the pursuit. Backus ran after the suspect while Jacoby followed in the car. At the intersection of Burbank and Shoup, Backus tackled the suspect and his weapon was jarred from its holster, Hall said.
Both officer and suspect simultaneously reached for the gun, Hall said. The suspect won the race, and all Backus could do was push the muzzle away. As the two men tussled, a shot went off, striking the suspect on the left side of his face, police said.
Police cordoned off several tree-lined suburban-style streets surrounding the shooting scene.
Shortly after 9 a.m., a deputy coroner arrived and looked over the bloodied body as it lay, now uncovered, on the street. A television news helicopter beat the skies overhead, a sound that drew some residents out of their homes, where they talked among themselves about the street violence that had encroached upon their peaceful neighborhood.
"This used to be such a quiet street," said Sheldon Allen, who has lived near the intersection for 33 years. His wife, Marilyn, agreed.
She said that although some homeless men have started drinking on a corner nearby, "I've never seen a dead body, and I've never seen a man lying in the street like that before. . . . It's ghastly. It's unreal. It's grotesque just to see it."
There has been a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood recently, residents said.
"The economy is so bad now that people are going shopping in other people's houses," Marilyn Allen said.
She looked on as the body was loaded into a coroner's van. "Poor parents, if he's got some," she muttered, shaking her head.