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Officer Who Shot Colleague Reported Being Harassed

Violence: Radio transmission may help support contention that killing was in self-defense, sources say.

March 20, 1997|MATEA GOLD and BETH SHUSTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Just before he shot an off-duty colleague, an undercover police officer radioed to his partners that he was being followed and harassed by an agitated motorist, sources said Wednesday.

The radio transmission from Los Angeles Det. Frank J. Lyga, sources said, could help support his contention that he shot Officer Kevin L. Gaines in self-defense Tuesday at a Studio City intersection.

Police sources also said that Gaines, a six-year LAPD veteran, had a discipline record. He had been the focus of an internal investigation when he was killed. Family members and colleagues, however, described Gaines, 31, as an affable man and a good cop, and asserted that he believed he was the target of racial bias at work.

Investigators said Tuesday's incident began with a simple stare between Lyga and Gaines when both were stopped at a traffic signal on Cahuenga Boulevard. It quickly escalated into a verbal confrontation. Lyga pulled away and informed his colleagues by radio that he was having trouble.

"He put out his concerns," one source said.

Another source said Lyga told other officers that he was being pursued by an irate motorist.

A couple of blocks to the south, Gaines pulled up next to Lyga. According to a source close to the investigation, the detective said he heard Gaines shout words that he took to mean he could be shot.

Lyga glanced over and saw a gun pointed at him, the source said.

"Fearing that he was about to be shot, Lyga drew his duty weapon and fired two rounds in the direction of the suspect," according to a statement released Wednesday by the LAPD.

Lyga, 40, had just finished an undercover drug operation and was dressed in grubby clothes to look like a dealer. Police said Lyga had no idea that Gaines was a police officer when he shot him. Gaines apparently was also unaware that Lyga was an officer, the LAPD said.

The shooting stunned police and community leaders, who were appalled that two veteran officers would let a traffic squabble escalate into lethal gunplay.

"The whole department is probably feeling some embarrassment," one police official said. "I mean, this is insane. [Gaines] was a policeman--we're not supposed to be doing this kind of stuff."

Los Angeles police spokesman Lt. Anthony Alba called the shooting "truly a bizarre situation."

Leonard Ross, president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Assn., a black police officers group, said the initial accounts of the shooting didn't make sense to him.

"I have concerns about the shooting at this point," Ross said. "At face value, it doesn't seem to add up. I think a lot of questions still need to be answered."

Gaines' family also questioned the official version of events, saying they did not believe he would pull a weapon without provocation. In addition, relatives recalled that he had run into trouble before with some of his fellow officers.

An Aug. 16 encounter with officers from the North Hollywood station prompted Gaines to file a claim against the city and sparked an internal police investigation.

According to Gaines' claim, filed in November, "a number of officers" were dispatched to a Studio City house to investigate a report of a shooting. Property records identify the owner as Sharitha Knight, the estranged wife of rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight.

Gaines had been separated from his wife, according to court papers. A police source said he had been dating Sharitha Knight. Gaines was driving her 1995 Mitsubishi Montero when he was killed, authorities said. She could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

In the August incident, Gaines alleged that he was pushed and then placed in handcuffs while the officers searched the residence despite his protests, the claim says.

The claim also says officers found "no evidence of foul play or gunplay." It adds that Gaines was detained and taken to the North Hollywood police station, and accused of being under the influence of drugs. A test turned up "no signs" of drugs, the claim says.

According to police sources, Gaines was uncooperative and a confrontation ensued. One source said Gaines was described as "profane" as well as "belligerent and uncontrollable." He bumped other officers, the source said, and had to be handcuffed.

The incident prompted an internal investigation, which was nearly complete, a source said, adding that Gaines had also been the subject of prior allegations of misconduct. The August incident was "the tip of the iceberg," the source said.

The officers inquiring into the August incident drove to the scene of the shooting Tuesday to confer with investigators.

Attorney Milton Grimes, who filed the claim on Gaines' behalf, said the August incident had made his client feel that he was the victim of racial discrimination.

Some activists said Wednesday that they were concerned that race may have played a part in the shooting Tuesday. Gaines was black and Lyga is white.

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