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Police Gun Down Robbery Suspect

The man, believed to be responsible for more than 30 holdups at fast-food restaurants, is fatally shot outside an Encino pancake house.

June 13, 2003|Wendy Thermos and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

A man suspected of robbing more than 30 fast-food restaurants was shot to death outside an International House of Pancakes in Encino on Thursday when he pointed a revolver at undercover officers who had pursued him across the Valley, police said.

The 30-year-old man had just tried to rob a nearby Taco Bell, and police in unmarked cars had followed him to the IHOP parking lot at Ventura Boulevard and Haskell Avenue at about 3 p.m., authorities said.

Officers in two cars drove into the lot and wedged his car against a wall. He pointed a 6-inch revolver at them through the window and put the vehicle into gear, police said.

The officers, wearing bulletproof vests with police insignia over their street clothes, ordered him to drop the gun. He refused, and the officers opened fire, shattering the passenger's side window and killing the suspect, police Lt. Art Miller said.

Witnesses said they heard men yelling, "Put your hands up! Put your hands up!" and then six to 15 shots. At a nearby garage, employee Kenny McLain yelled for customers to "Hit the ground!"

The undercover officers, members of the Los Angeles Police Department's Special Investigation Section, thought the suspect was about to fire and feared for themselves and bystanders, Miller said. No one else was injured.

The man, whose name wasn't released, had been robbing restaurants and convenience stores across the Valley for months, sometimes on consecutive days, police Lt. Jim Grayson said.

"He was really terrorizing the Valley."

Usually wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap, he also hit doughnut shops and AM/PM mini-markets, police said.

"He would go in and more or less show his gun and get the money," Grayson said. "He got to the point he'd almost do it every day."

Six undercover special investigation officers had been following the man for hours Thursday when he went into the Taco Bell at Vesper Avenue and Vanowen Street. When he came out, the officers went in and were told a robbery had been attempted. Police didn't say why it apparently failed.

The officers followed the man's car for about four miles, until he pulled into the IHOP lot, where they decided to move in for an arrest.

The shooting, as is routine, will be investigated by the district attorney's office and LAPD.

The Special Investigation Section is the unit LAPD detectives turn to when they believe they have identified a criminal but lack evidence to file charges. Squad members tail suspects, often for weeks, hoping to catch them in the act. Formed in 1965, the unit has come under criticism repeatedly for its tactics.

The squad of mostly veteran LAPD officers has engaged in more than 50 gun battles, killed at least 36 suspects and wounded dozens of others. The squad has been credited with capturing some of the city's most notorious criminals, including the Alphabet Bomber, the Freeway Strangler and Ennis Cosby's killer, but also has led to more than $2 million in settlements.

Defenders of the unit say that surveillance is considered an effective way to combat serial robbers and burglars, whose expertise and speed at striking targets make them among the most prolific and elusive of criminals.

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Times staff writers Richard Winton, Michael Krikorian, Richard Fausset and Monte Morin contributed to this report.

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