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Police Kill Man Holding Fake Grenade; 3 Others Hurt

Shooting: Suspect allegedly threatened to pull pin and shouted, 'Shoot me.' Another shot fired by police at scene hours later.

April 01, 2000|JOHNATHON E. BRIGGS and ANNE-MARIE O'CONNOR | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A 26-year-old man carrying a fake grenade was killed and three bystanders wounded in a hail of gunfire from Los Angeles Police Department officers who chased the suspect through the crowded Los Amigos mall Friday afternoon, police and witnesses said.

Six hours later, an LAPD officer at the same scene opened fire again, this time near a crowd of mall workers waiting to return inside. The officer fired a single shot and killed a dog that was snarling and threatening him and several other officers.

The officers were pursuing the animal's owner, who was allegedly leaving the scene of an accident he had caused.

The man who was killed was shot sometime after 12:20 p.m. at the mall in the 300 block of East Jefferson Boulevard, said Capt. Sharyn Buck of the LAPD.

She would not identify the man or the three injured people, whom witnesses said were two men and a teenage girl working at the mall.

But family members identified the dead man as Felix Chagolla of East Los Angeles, who they said had been shot six times.

"He was our only son," sobbed his mother, Helen Chagolla, who said she learned of the shooting as she returned home from her cafeteria job. "I can't believe it."

Two of the wounded were hospitalized and one was treated and released, Buck said. None of the injuries was reported to be life-threatening.

Buck did not say how many bullets were fired or how many officers were involved in the incident. When police first confronted the man, they saw him holding the fake grenade and threatening to pull the pin, Buck said.

A witness who identified herself only as Mrs. Guzman said police "were shooting like crazy. If they'd been more careful they wouldn't have hit so many people."

Between 60 and 100 people were in the mall at the time, Buck said. Many of them fled when shouts erupted that the man was carrying an explosive.

Bonifacio Santana Aguirre, 72, of West Covina, said he was having coffee at Las Marias restaurant when the man ran by with several officers close behind. "He had a black thing in his hand. It looked like a long black radio or big cellular phone."

"The police said, 'Go outside. It's a bomb.' There were people crying," Aguirre said. The suspect "looked very frightened. The police began firing like it was a war."

Chagolla's uncle, Ramon Ramirez, said his nephew had gone to the mall to collect money from a man who owed him. When a security guard would not let him in, Chagolla told him: "I have a grenade," Ramirez said. The guard let him in and called police.

Chagolla's girlfriend, Danielle Hyde, 26, said the couple had gone to the same mall the night before to eat. Chagolla went to the mall two or three times a day to eat or hang out, she said.

Hyde said Chagolla was a former gang member, but that he had put that life behind and the two were trying to start a family.

On Friday after arriving, officers chased Chagolla through the mall, detaining him briefly, but then he escaped, witnesses said.

Outside Las Marias restaurant, "He held onto something and began to threaten them that if they came near, he would explode the grenade, but they shot him," Guzman said.

The device, inspected by the bomb squad, turned out to be fake, Buck said, but "if you looked at it you would have thought it was a grenade."

Sales clerk Brenda Rosas, 18, who watched the chase, said the man ran and hid behind a T-shirt rack at the clothing store where she works, but emerged with his hands in the air when he saw that officers had spotted him.

The man told them, "Shoot me, shoot me," before running off, she said.

Minutes later, Rosas said, she heard about 10 gunshots. She saw the suspect on the ground, motionless.

Six hours later, as mall workers and news crews milled outside the mall, the commotion was compounded when a Chevy Nova rear-ended a Datsun on Maple Street, pushing it across the Jefferson Boulevard intersection, witnesses said. The driver of the Nova emerged with an agitated pit bull at his side.

The dog lunged, sending workers fleeing, as about five officers tried to subdue the animal with pepper spray and batons. One officer shot the dog.

"What are you, stupid? That's civilian cross-fire," a fellow officer snapped at his colleague, referring to the 20 or more people standing as close as 10 feet away.

The dog's owner, whom officers had shot with pepper spray, slumped down alongside his dog and was taken away by ambulance a short time later.

Investigators said they found PCP and a gun in the Nova.

*

Staff writer Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson contributed to this article.

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