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Alleged Robber Killed by LAPD Was Ex-Convict

Craig Lee Smith, shot outside pancake house, served time for burglary and drug convictions.

June 14, 2003|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

A 36-year-old man who was fatally shot by detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department's Special Investigation Section was identified Friday as Craig Lee Smith, an ex-convict who served four years in state prison for narcotics and burglary convictions, authorities said.

The unemployed telemarketer died of multiple gunshot wounds, said Craig Harvey, chief of operations for the Los Angeles County coroner's office. An autopsy is scheduled for today.

Smith, whose last known address was in Chatsworth, is suspected of robbing more than 30 San Fernando Valley businesses -- from convenience stores to fast-food restaurants -- since March, police said.

The most recent robbery attempt came Thursday afternoon when Smith tried to hold up a Taco Bell at Vesper Avenue and Vanowen Street in Van Nuys, said LAPD spokesman Art Miller.

Based on a tip, detectives began following Smith Thursday and watched as he went into the fast-food restaurant. After he left, employees told police a robbery had been attempted, Miller said.

Detectives followed Smith to an International House of Pancakes in Encino and cornered the white sport utility vehicle he had borrowed from a friend against a wall behind the restaurant.

Detectives ordered Smith to surrender, Miller said, and when the suspect pointed a revolver at them, police fired about 10 rounds. Authorities do not believe Smith fired his weapon.

Investigators identified the detectives involved in the shooting as Joe Callian, Charlie Bennett, James Martin and James Harris. The incident is under investigation by the LAPD and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

The special investigation unit, formed in 1965, has had a diverse and sometimes controversial history. It 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 has also been criticized for its tactics. Squad members tail suspects, often for weeks, hoping to catch them in the act of committing crimes. The city has paid out more than $2 million to people who say they or their family members were victimized by the unit.

Smith, who was fired from his telemarketing job several months ago, was a habitual drug user with a history of burglaries, said Robbery-Homicide Division Lt. Jim Grayson.

State records show that Smith was sentenced to three years and eight months for burglary in July 1993 and was released in January 1996. More than a year later, Smith was sentenced to two years and eight months for possession of narcotics for sale, but was released after 13 months.

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