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Simi Valley Mourns Slain Officer : Shooting: Police had visited accused killer's house several times before in response to neighbors' complaints about gunfire.

August 06, 1995|MACK REED and SCOTT HADLY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SIMI VALLEY — While friends and relatives mourned slain Simi Valley Police Officer Michael Frederick Clark on Saturday, prosecutors weighed whether to seek the death penalty for his accused killer, Daniel Allan Tuffree.

Neighbors shared their experiences about Tuffree, describing him as a man who has had several encounters with police because of his penchant for shooting off his gun.

Clark, the first Simi Valley officer to be killed in the line of duty in the department's 29-year history, was new to the force. He came from the Los Angeles Police Department's Devonshire Division in the San Fernando Valley just five months ago in search of a better place to raise his infant son.

He was, his father said, "doing what he loved" when he confronted the suicidal Tuffree.

"Last week, he told me he was so proud that he had used CPR to save someone who had a heart attack," Frederick Clark said, pausing to choke back tears. "This call, this was a distress call. He went out there to help someone who was in distress, who was suicidal. Again, he was trying to help someone. That was the kind of man Michael was."

Tuffree, who was wounded in the shootout, was no stranger to police.

Neighbors and investigative sources said officers had answered numerous gunfire complaints at Tuffree's house and had arrested him about two years ago on accusations that he shot a passing pickup truck.

One source said Tuffree was released without being charged in the 1993 incident because the Ventura County district attorney's office did not think the case was strong enough to go to court.

When police arrested Tuffree on Friday after the shootout, the source said, they confiscated the same gun that was involved in that 1993 incident--a .40-caliber Glock.

Spokesmen for the district attorney's office and Simi Valley police confirmed that police had visited Tuffree's house in response to complaints about gunfire, but declined to comment on the 1993 incident.

"I don't know any details on that," Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin McGee said. "There's a bunch of stuff that's still under investigation."

Neighbors said that after the 1993 arrest Tuffree went back to shooting and throwing rocks at passing cars and even blew out windows of adjacent buildings.

About a year ago, said neighbor Brian Henry, Tuffree shot out windows a hundred yards away from his house--firing across his street, a set of railroad tracks and heavily traveled Los Angeles Avenue to hit the panes on an industrial building.

"He was always firing off his weapons," said Henry, 28. "The police came out here a lot."

But next-door neighbor Ronald Gonzales said he never heard gunshots or saw Tuffree with a firearm.

"I've lived here eight or nine years. I'd see him going to work or coming home from work. He was always friendly," said Gonzales, 44. "That was just a rumor about the guns."

Little else was known about Tuffree on Saturday. He taught social studies at Chatsworth High School in the late 1980s, but it was unclear what he did for a living more recently.

Friday's fatal shooting occurred when police officers rushed to Tuffree's house on the report that he had called his insurance company and threatened to kill himself.

Tuffree, 48, talked briefly with Clark through an open door, police said, then began shooting. Clark was hit once in the arm and once in the back, police said.

Officers Tony Anzilotti and Michael Pearce shot back, but were unable to reach Clark without exposing themselves to gunfire, police said.

SWAT officers drove an armored vehicle alongside the house to shield them long enough to rescue their wounded colleague. But Clark, 28, was pronounced dead soon thereafter at Simi Valley Hospital.

After a five-hour standoff, police fired more than two dozen tear gas and concussion grenades into the house. They surged inside, cuffed Tuffree and hustled him off to Los Robles Hospital.

Tuffree underwent surgery Saturday at Ventura County Medical Center for five bullet wounds, said Sgt. Bob Gardner, a Simi Valley police spokesman. "The hospital listed him as stable, alert and aware," Gardner said.

Tuffree was being held in the jail section of the hospital until surgery was finished.

Prosecutors are weighing whether to pursue the death penalty against Tuffree, which McGee said is allowed in the murder of a police officer.

On Saturday morning, relatives of Clark ventured up to Tuffree's property to lay bouquets of flowers near the spot where the officer was gunned down. Strangers also left bouquets on the lawn of the house as detectives inside finished picking over bullet casings, empty tear-gas shells and other residue of the shootout.

The mood was somber, too, among police at the Simi Valley department and at the LAPD's Devonshire Division.

Flags were lowered to half-mast. Officers pasted strips of black tape over their badge numbers in mourning.

They passed the hat at the Devonshire Division for Clark's wife and 4-month-old son, and there was talk of having his name etched into a stone memorial outside dedicated to Los Angeles police officers killed in the line of duty.

Times staff writer Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this story. Mack Reed is a Times staff writer and Scott Hadly a correspondent.

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