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Police Error Cited in Officer's Death

Courts: Retired LAPD commander's testimony contradicts earlier views in trial of man who killed Simi Valley policeman.

September 17, 1996|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Simi Valley police made a series of grave errors when they went to the home of Daniel Allan Tuffree last year, errors that led to the fatal shooting of Officer Michael Clark, a police expert testified Monday.

Tuffree, 49, is facing first-degree murder charges and a possible death sentence for killing Clark on Aug. 4, 1995, during a gun battle with police in his backyard.

But as defense attorneys called their first witness Monday, the focus of the six-week trial shifted from Tuffree's actions to those of police officers who were sent to check on his well-being.

During an entire day on the witness stand, Lou Reiter, a retired Los Angeles Police Department commander, testified that Simi Valley police officers made one mistake after another when they came to Tuffree's home.

The three police officers were working with third-hand information when they arrived at the scene, Reiter said. Before taking action, they did not devise a plan in case a confrontation occurred with Tuffree, who was a known gun owner.

And they did not announce themselves before walking into Tuffree's backyard with their guns drawn, Reiter said, all actions that could have aggravated a distraught man who reportedly had been drinking alcohol, taking Valium and who had stopped answering his phone.

"No one had anticipated or made an evaluation of what would happen if things didn't go right," said Reiter, a private consultant on police procedure who was an LAPD officer for 20 years.

Reiter told the jury that he believed Simi Valley Police Sgt. Anthony Anzilotti was negligible in his role as the supervising officer on scene that day.

"In my opinion he didn't supervise at all," Reiter said.

And he said Clark erred by not walking away from Tuffree's kitchen window once he realized the former schoolteacher was conscious and not injured.

"The emergency is over," Reiter said. "Therefore, the right to be in his backyard is over."

Reiter's testimony stood in stark contrast to the opinions of two other police experts called by the prosecution Aug. 25.

Sgt. Robert Medkeff, who teaches crisis intervention at the LAPD academy, told the jury that Clark's actions were "totally consistent" with standard police procedure.

And Jerry L. Mulford, a retired LAPD tactics expert and former academy teacher, testified that Clark walked into an "ambush" situation that could not have been avoided.

Medkeff and Mulford were both instructors at the police academy when Clark was trained as an LAPD officer in 1989.

Both men testified that Simi Valley police officers sent to Tuffree's house last summer had an obligation--moral, ethical and legal--to follow through with the request to check on Tuffree's welfare.

They had no choice, Medkeff and Mulford said, but to ensure that Tuffree was safe. And to do that, they said the officer needed to get close enough to make direct contact with him.

But Reiter, who retired from the LAPD in 1981, said that assertion is wrong. "Officers always have a choice," he said.

But later, Reiter admitted that officers such as Clark have a moral and professional duty to follow through on a call for service.

"He can't simply turn his back and walk away when a situation looks bad, can he?" Deputy Dist. Atty. Patricia Murphy asked Reiter during a blistering cross-examination that took up most of the afternoon.

"No, that's true," Reiter responded, but he explained that there are situations in which police can walk away once they have determined that a person is safe.

"There are a lot of people in their homes that are not confronting a medical emergency who just want to be left alone," he said.

Testimony is expected to resume today. Court proceedings were suspended last week after a juror suffered a mild stroke. The female juror returned to the panel Monday.

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