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50 Protest Shooting by LAPD Officer

November 21, 2002|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

More than 50 people protested outside Parker Center on Wednesday, alleging that race motivated an LAPD officer who shot at a car early Saturday, causing a crash that killed two 16-year-olds.

"Was it because they were Latinos driving a nice car?" asked Antonio Lopez, the stepbrother of one of the dead teens, Salvador Sibrian.

Some protesters carried placards displaying photographs of the dead teens or proclaiming, "The community is terrorized by gang members and gangsters in uniform," and "Bill Bratton control your cops."

Police Chief William J. Bratton, told later about the signs, responded: "Control your kids."

"People are not going to be pursued if they aren't engaged in criminal activity," he said. "I have every sympathy for the family of those who died, but at the same time I have officers who I worry about, who are pulling up on situations where gunshots have been fired or people are trying to flee."

The two teenagers, Sibrian and Uriel Damien, died when the Lexus in which they were passengers crashed into a tree after Los Angeles Police Department Officer Tommy Thompson fired on the vehicle, said Luis Carrillo, an attorney for the teenagers' families.

The driver, Miguel Lopez, 19, remains in guarded condition in a county jail ward. Carrillo said Lopez was a U.S. Marine Corps corporal on active duty.

Police say that Thompson fired on the Lexus after the driver suddenly accelerated toward him. Thompson had previously been involved in two shootings during his six-year LAPD career, both of which were declared justified.

Family members say the five people in the car were coming home from a party. "This is what we're going to expect from the new LAPD," said Aaron Damien, Uriel's brother. "Nothing changes."

Elizabeth Solorzano, mother of both Salvador and Miguel, said the youngsters were "good kids" and that Salvador was "murdered" by the police.

The shooting incident was one of five last weekend involving LAPD officers. It came during a four-day period when 13 people were killed in the city.

On Tuesday, Bratton said that the officers' initial responses in all five shootings appeared to be justified but that investigations will resolve whether the officers' tactics in firing shots were appropriate.

Police say the deadly incident began when Thompson and his partner heard a car alarm and saw two men standing near a parked vehicle on 53rd Street near Central Avenue.

As the patrol car approached, the men fled, climbing a fence and running through a vacant field. Thompson went after them on foot while his partner drove around the block.

As the partner drove west, he saw a white Lexus parked in the alley. The car began to accelerate. He radioed Thompson that the vehicle was speeding toward him.

Thompson told investigators he was standing on the sidewalk at 1031 52nd Place when he saw the Lexus. "The Lexus struck a curb, then stopped momentarily, apparently disabled," according to the police account.

Thompson said he drew his service pistol and approached the vehicle. He ordered the suspects to raise their hands, he said. At that point, Thompson said, the driver drove at him and he fired. The Lexus crashed a short distance later. The impact, police said, killed Sibrian and Damien and injured the three other occupants.

Police said the boys who died were hit by the shots -- one in the knee and the other in the hand. They did not say where the driver was struck by gunfire or whether any of the five were among the initial suspects.

Attorney Carrillo contended Wednesday that those in the car were not the thieves. "They just got off the freeway," he said.

Carrillo said that a bullet struck Miguel Lopez in the leg, causing the crash. He told the gathering of protesters, many of them students at Manuel Arts High School, where the two dead boys were juniors, that they were "killed by trigger-happy police." Miguel Lopez is being held in the custody division at County-USC Medical Center on charges of assault with a deadly weapon -- the car -- on Thompson.

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