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Police Join Colleague's Mourners

LAPD: Kevin Lee Gaines is remembered at funeral as warm and loving. He was killed by another officer after an alleged traffic dispute.

March 26, 1997|MAKI BECKER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A thousand mourners--at least 100 of them uniformed police officers--paid their final respects Tuesday to Los Angeles Police Officer Kevin Lee Gaines, who died last week at the hands of a fellow officer in a controversial shooting after an alleged traffic dispute in Studio City.

After first saying he would not attend, outgoing Chief Willie L. Williams was among the mourners, along with Deputy Chief Bernard C. Parks, a leading candidate for the chief's job, and Police Commissioners Raymond C. Fisher and T. Warren Jackson.

Gaines' estranged wife, Georgia Renee Gaines, and other family members would not allow the news media into the civilian funeral at the Crenshaw Christian Center and refused to speak to reporters afterward.

Authorities say Det. Frank J. Lyga shot Gaines, 31, after an argument in an intersection during which Gaines allegedly pulled out a handgun.

Apparently fearing for his life, Lyga fired two shots at Gaines, investigators said. The men, neither in uniform, were strangers to each other and neither knew that the other was a police officer, officials said.

Gaines was not given a full-honors funeral because he was off duty at the time of the shooting, LAPD officials said.

At Gaines' burial at Inglewood Park Cemetery after the service, an honor guard of veterans fired a salute before the coffin was sealed in an outdoor vault.

Officer Marlene Jefferson, who worked with Gaines at the West Los Angeles Division, watched the burial from a distance, in the shade of a tree. Jefferson remembered her colleague as an upbeat man and said the shooting did not make sense to her.

"To be perfectly honest, I didn't know there were any problems at all," Jefferson said, her eyes red and puffy. "He was a Toys-R-Us kid. You know, 'I don't wanna grow up. . . . ' He was good-natured, kindhearted. I can't think of anything bad about him."

After the graveside services, Tonya King, 27, who described herself as a law enforcement officer and a friend of Gaines, called Gaines' death "unfortunate."

"There is a fine line between officer safety and judgment calling," she said, "and you are given only a split second to make that decision.

"Kevin didn't have a temper at all. He was not aggressive. He acted accordingly and he acted reasonably."

LAPD officials say the confrontation started with the two men exchanging stares, at which point Gaines allegedly threatened Lyga. Sources added that Lyga put out a call on his radio that a motorist was threatening him before he shot Gaines at the next intersection.

Gaines' family has since hired attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. to look into the incident.

On Tuesday, Carl Douglas, one of Cochran's associates, said preliminary results from an independent autopsy did not appear to match the coroner's findings. Douglas declined to elaborate, saying the findings still need to be analyzed further.

Gaines and Lyga had been the focus of complaints: Gaines at the time of his death was the subject of an internal investigation for alleged misconduct, and two citizens filed complaints against Lyga in 1991, alleging excessive force.

After Gaines' funeral, Mary Figgers, a longtime friend of the slain officer's family, praised his fellow officers who came to the services. She recalled how Gaines had wanted to be a police officer since he was a boy.

When asked about the circumstances surrounding the shooting, she referred to words spoken at Gaines' services.

"Like the minister said, we just have to pray," she said. "We have to come closer."

Leonard Ross, president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Assn., a predominantly African American police officers group, said his organization is deeply concerned about the shooting.

"Without stirring up a lot of emotions, I will say that I am concerned," Ross said. "To be fair, we do not know all the facts."

Ross added that he was happy to see that Williams had changed his mind about attending the funeral. "I think it was the right thing to do."

Times staff writer Matt Lait contributed to this story.

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