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D.A. Backs Officers in Fukuto Case : Crime: Garcetti says police used justifiable force in subduing gunman who killed two colleagues.

March 25, 1994|TED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said Thursday that Palos Verdes Estates police officers used justifiable force in subduing a masked gunman who shot and killed two of their colleagues and later died.

The gunman, David Fukuto, died of traumatic head injuries and asphyxia after officers wrestled him to the ground to get two guns out of his hands during the Feb. 14 attack at the Torrance Holiday Inn, where police and city officials were holding a motivational training seminar.

"The officers involved in subduing and disarming Mr. Fukuto did nothing wrong," said Garcetti, holding the .22-caliber Ruger handgun and 9-millimeter Sig Sauer handgun used by Fukuto. "They did in fact use reasonable force and there is no question that Mr. Fukuto was acting viciously and violently after he had shot and killed the two officers."

In an apparent robbery attempt, Fukuto burst into the room and shouted, "This is no joke. Everyone put your hands behind your head." He shot Sgt. Vernon Thomas Vanderpool, 57, and Capt. Michael Tracy, 51, when they approached him.

Other officers wrestled Fukuto to the ground. Torrance officers say he fired at least three more shots during the struggle.

"I saw the muzzle flash and I heard pops right by my head, and I don't know how many he fired," Sgt. Daniel Dreiling, one of the first people to charge Fukuto, told Torrance investigators. "But at that time, I thought I was going to die."

Officials said there is no evidence that Fukuto knew police officers were among those attending the seminar at the hotel.

Los Angeles County coroner's spokesman Scott Carrier said that during the struggle it is possible a bulletproof vest Fukuto was wearing pushed up against his neck and choked his air passage. Some officers told investigators they kicked Fukuto, Carrier said.

But Garcetti said there was no evidence any officer applied force after Fukuto was subdued.

Torrance police believe that Fukuto's motive was to get extra cash. Fukuto, a former insurance salesman, was financially strapped, his credit cards had been canceled and the state Franchise Tax Board had a lien against him, police said.

Meanwhile, Fukuto's father, state appellate Justice Morio Fukuto, identified his son from an automated teller machine photograph as the suspect in the robbery of a Gardena real estate office in June, Torrance Police Chief Joseph DeLadurantey said.

Palos Verdes Estates Police Chief Gary Johansen said there was nothing officers could have done to prevent what happened.

"By the time we realized it was not part of a training exercise, it was too late to do anything about it," he said.

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