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2 Men Killed After Valley Holdup Named

The robbery suspects, both 19, were shot by police. Two others are being held in the case.

September 19, 2003|Andrew Blankstein and Karima A. Haynes | Times Staff Writers

Police on Thursday identified two robbery suspects shot to death the day before by undercover officers following a holdup at a Northridge salon.

The men were identified as David Thomas of Van Nuys and Byron Smith of Arleta, both 19.

Thomas had been arrested last month on suspicion of misdemeanor kidnapping but later pleaded guilty to a domestic violence count and received a 45-day sentence, authorities said. He was released before serving his full sentence.

Police also arrested two men on suspicion of first-degree murder stemming from the deaths Wednesday of their alleged accomplices. Jerome Barnes, 21, of Winnetka and Steve Hunnicutt, 19, of Granada Hills are being held without bail at the Van Nuys jail.

The four men were part of a theft ring that robbed 10 recycling centers and six nail and beauty salons across the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Jim Grayson said.

Dressed in bandanas, hoods and baseball caps, the men entered the businesses yelling threats and waving guns, authorities said. Because of the disguises, LAPD detectives could not immediately identify the robbers, Grayson said. A week ago officers called in Special Investigation Section detectives after they learned the license plate of a rented Ford Mustang used in one robbery.

About 7 p.m. Wednesday, SIS detectives followed the Mustang to the Northridge Beauty Club on Reseda Boulevard.

Don Le, manager of the salon, said seven women were having manicures and pedicures when a man burst in.

"He was yelling and screaming," Le said. "The girls were really scared and crying. Naturally, when someone puts a gun in your face you're scared."

The robber fled in the Mustang with three men. A short distance away, in North Hills, the four men wound up on a cul-de-sac off Community Street, police said. As they tried to turn around, the Mustang was blocked by patrol cars. Three men then got out of the Mustang and one man pointed a gun, police said. Officers then fired.

The SIS has been criticized by some for its tactics. The squad members tail suspects, often for weeks, hoping to catch them committing a crime.

Attorney Steven Yagman, who has three SIS-related cases pending in court, said he had been contacted by relatives of one suspect killed Wednesday.

"It's the same old story," Yagman said. "They are a death squad who set up confrontations with suspects" and then "set up self-defense" as an explanation for deadly force, he said.

But Le said if police had acted immediately, "they wouldn't have had the evidence." Still, he said, allowing the robbery to go forward was "good for the police but not good for us. But nobody was hurt in here, and that was good."

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