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Police Share Credit for Capture

U.S. and Mexican law enforcement agencies worked tirelessly to find the man suspected in the Nov. 15 slaying of a Burbank officer.

November 29, 2003|Andrew Blankstein and Richard Boudreaux | Times Staff Writers

He had no car, didn't speak Spanish and his picture was being broadcast repeatedly as a suspected cop killer.

But after spending two weeks in a graffiti-filled colonia south of Tijuana, David A. Garcia had managed to elude a massive manhunt that, at its height, involved more than 1,000 officers.

The 19-year-old Sun Valley resident fled to Mexico with help from fellow gang members and associates in the drug trade within hours of the Nov. 15 killing of Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka at a Ramada Inn parking lot, authorities said.

In an intense search, more than 60 of Garcia's associates, as well as family and friends, were arrested. Interrogations as well as intelligence on Garcia's communications after Pavelka's slaying helped police track him down, officials said.

By late last week, U.S. and Mexican authorities had narrowed three potential hiding places to one. Garcia was arrested without incident Thursday.

But as important as good intelligence, police officials say, was textbook teamwork between U.S. and Mexican authorities.

"The Mexican officials were just outstanding," Chief Inspector John Clark of the U.S. Marshals Service said Friday. "They were working together with us 20 to 22 hours a day since last Friday, and they were doing the same type of investigations that we were doing up here, including surveillance, checking background information and confirming or eliminating potential addresses. It was a truly cooperative effort."

Once authorities learned that Garcia might be in the Tijuana area, the Marshals Service relayed crucial intelligence from the Burbank police and other local law enforcement agencies to the Interpol branch of the Procuraduria General de la Republica and agents with Mexico's Agencia Federal de Investigaciones, Clark said.

The close cooperation was even more noteworthy because the Mexican government's handling of fugitives wanted for capital crimes abroad is a sensitive issue in Mexico.

Extradition of fugitives facing the death penalty in the United States is excluded under a U.S.-Mexican treaty. And in 2001, the Mexican Supreme Court prohibited the extradition of defendants facing life sentences without the possibility of parole.

The murder of a police officer carries a special circumstances charge that, if sought, could result in the death penalty, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley noted. But extradition law does not apply in the Garcia case, Mexican officials said, because he entered Mexico illegally. He was deported for having violated Mexico's immigra- tion law.

"It's not an unusual case," said Diana Page, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. "We appreciate Mexico's enforcing their immigration laws when someone is in violation."

She said more than 70 other American fugitives, including some wanted for capital crimes, have been deported this year after entering Mexico illegally. Among the returned fugitives was convicted rapist Andrew Luster, heir to the Max Factor fortune, who was seized by a bounty hunter and then taken into custody by Mexican police.

One of the most controversial cases involves Jorge "Armando" Arroyo Garcia, a Mexican national who was in the country illegally when he allegedly shot Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy David March to death during an April 2002 traffic stop in Irwindale.

The big difference for David Garcia is that he is a U.S. citizen, making him not only a murder suspect but an illegal immigrant to Mexico, Clark said.

In about 150 cases since 1993, Mexican courts have convicted accused killers who flee the United States.

But the Mexican government traditionally has balked at deporting Mexican nationals and even those with dual citizenship. U.S. officials have charged that, as a result, more than 60 murder suspects have not been returned to face justice.

Garcia is being held without bail and is to be arraigned Tuesday in Pavelka's slaying, the first in the 82-year history of the Burbank department.

The shooting of Pavelka occurred in the parking lot of a motel known for auto theft and drug transactions.

Officer Gregory Campbell, 41, a veteran of the Burbank force, had been on patrol near the Burbank Airport when he spotted two men sitting in a black Cadillac Escalade with no plates in the Ramada Inn lot.

Campbell called for backup, and Pavelka arrived almost immediately. Within moments, Garcia and a suspect who was later identified as Ramon Aranda, 25, jumped out of the vehicle and started shooting, police said.

The officers returned fire and killed Aranda. Campbell was wounded, while Pavelka, hit 12 times, died in surgery at a hospital.

The response by police officials was swift and massive. Burbank police, working with Los Angeles police and the Sheriff's Department, served dozens of search warrants. More than 60 people, including Garcia's father and twin brother, were arrested on suspicion of harboring the fugitive, gun charges and other crimes.

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