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2 Die as Gunman Seeks Koon at Halfway House

November 24, 1995|RALPH FRAMMOLINO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A gunman stormed a Riverside County halfway house Thursday looking for former Los Angeles Police Sgt. Stacey C. Koon but killed a hostage instead before sheriff's deputies shot him to death, authorities said.

The gunman--tentatively identified as Randall Tolbert, 35--was killed in a volley of gunfire after a sheriff's SWAT team burst into the Re-Entry Community Corrections Center in Rubidoux about 3:30 p.m.

Koon was visiting his family on a holiday pass from the shelter, where he is completing his federal prison sentence for civil rights violations in the 1991 videotaped beating of motorist Rodney G. King.

"My understanding is that he was there earlier in the day, left on a holiday pass and the gunman arrived," said Koon's attorney, Ira Salzman. "Thank goodness for his Thanksgiving pass.

"Another irony? It's his birthday today," said Salzman, who declined to specify where Koon had been.

Koon, 45, was released to the 30-bed Rubidoux center in mid-October after serving most of his 30-month prison term in Oregon. He is scheduled to be freed Dec. 14.

The drama began about 12:30 p.m. when Tolbert, who is black, entered the halfway house, brandishing a gun and "demanding to know where Stacey Koon was," said Riverside sheriff's spokesman Mark Lohman.

Lohman said he was not aware of Tolbert making any reference during the incident to King, whose beating at the hands of Koon and other white officers frayed racial relations. The acquittal of Koon and three fellow officers in state court touched off the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the worst in modern U.S. history.

Several people, including resident Clinton Cooper, bolted from the house. "I was in the back room when he came in, he had one of the staff members around the throat and a gun at his waist," Cooper told reporters. "The staff member started talking to him, and he got him out of the room long enough for me to get out of the window and go call 911."

Lohman said Tolbert confronted a male resident and a female visitor as they sat in the dining room. Tolbert shot and grazed the man in the head, then pistol-whipped the female visitor before the couple were able to escape.

Moving into another area of the house, Tolbert took three hostages--a security guard, a vending machine servicewoman and her friend, a man from Arizona. The gunman then made telephone calls to Los Angeles-area television stations demanding to know Koon's whereabouts, said Lohman.

"He said if he [Koon] didn't appear there, he was going to start shooting the hostages," said Lohman.

Meanwhile, officers barricaded nearby streets and ordered neighbors to find cover inside their homes. About 25 members of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department Emergency Services Team assembled outside the house, storming through the door when they heard a shot inside, said Lohman.

Officers came face-to-face with Tolbert, who fired once before police shot back several times, killing him at the scene.

Lohman said Tolbert, a Rubidoux resident, had an "extensive criminal history," including arrests for robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, assault on a police officer, attempted murder and narcotics violations. Lohman said Tolbert was on parole from prison at the time of Thursday's incident.

The dead hostage was identified as Karl Milan, 67, of Phoenix, who had decided to accompany his friend on her rounds to service vending machines before joining her family for Thanksgiving dinner, said Lohman. He added that Tolbert apparently killed the hostage shortly before police burst into the home.

Koon's arrival at the Rubidoux facility, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, was well-publicized. Lohman said he was aware that the former officer's presence had stirred some tension in the neighborhood, which is heavily black and Latino.

"I've heard some people were upset that Mr. Koon was placed here, but there haven't been any problems up until this point since he's been here," said Lohman.

Ann Grace, 65, who lives across the street from the halfway house, said she and her family were told to stay inside and "hit the floor" when they heard shots ring out. Collecting herself after the incident, she recalled how she told television interviewers upon Koon's arrival that she really didn't expect any problems with his presence in the neighborhood.

"I told them that it didn't bother us. I have to eat my words now because I said there wasn't going to be any trouble, but there was," she said. "It's just too bad that two people had to die."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Fatal Shooting

A gunman searching for former LAPD Sgt. Stacey C. Koon burst into a Rubidoux halfway house and killed a hostage before being shot to death by authorities.

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