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Man Shot After Taking a Hostage at Consulate

Police officer opens fire on an intruder who was threatening to kill a female clerk at the Mexican government offices in L.A.

November 10, 2004|Hector Becerra and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

A man dressed in black and wearing bizarrely worded placards rushed into the Mexican Consulate near MacArthur Park on Tuesday morning, grabbing a pregnant woman as a hostage before a police officer shot him.

Witnesses said the man brandished what appeared to be a gun on the fourth floor of the consulate, shouting demands such as "Call 911; I want the media" to staffers. He then dragged a female clerk down the stairs, past terrified bystanders and out of the building just as LAPD officers were arriving.

TV footage showed the intruder with his arm around the woman's neck, jamming what police said they believed to be a weapon against her back.

About half a dozen officers surrounded the man, who wore a black balaclava and partly obscured signs, portions of which read, "I think

Witnesses said the suspect, identified as 19-year-old Manuel Ortiz Gonzalez of Canoga Park, shouted at the officers as he pulled the hostage backward away from police who crept toward him with weapons drawn. A source close to the investigation said Ortiz Gonzalez allegedly screamed: "Don't come any closer or I'll kill" the woman.

A police sergeant from the Rampart Division who was once assigned to a SWAT unit opened fire, striking Ortiz Gonzalez in the head. The suspect fell and the woman ran to the officers.

The incident prompted a citywide tactical alert as hundreds of officers descended on the Westlake district, blocking off traffic within four blocks of the consulate.

With the suspect in custody, SWAT officers swept through the building to make sure there were no accomplices. Police Chief William J. Bratton said he was confident the man acted alone but was unclear about his motive.

As with every officer-involved shooting, police officials said they would conduct criminal and administrative reviews of the incident. But LAPD Assistant Chief George Gascon praised the officers' performance.

"They had no real cover and had to expose themselves to confront him, putting their lives at risk," he said.

The LAPD manual states that police officers should fire only "when it reasonably appears necessary" to protect themselves or others from death or serious injury.

Officials said the gunman did not discharge the weapon. Detectives recovered a revolver but are trying to determine whether it was real or a replica. The suspect was taken to County-USC Medical Center and was listed in critical but stable condition.

The victim was not injured, and police did not identify her. A man who identified himself as the woman's husband, who said he arrived at the scene after hearing from her, criticized security at the building.

"She was an easy target. He went straight for her at her desk," said the man, who would not give his name. "There isn't enough security to stop something like this from happening. I am very angry."

There were as many as 70 people in the building when the gunman entered about 8:30 a.m. Many were there to apply for a matricula consular, an ID card issued by the Mexican government that is accepted as valid identification by some banks, health insurers and airlines.

Police said they learned there was a problem when the victim called 911 and told them that a man had a gun to her head and that he wanted the media to come to the consulate immediately. The gunman grabbed the phone away and repeated what she had said, sources said.

A security guard also called police, telling them there was an armed man with a hostage and possibly several other assailants.

Flavio Ramirez, 48, said he had just arrived to get a permit to drive in Mexico when a stampede of people left the building.

"People were screaming, 'There's an assault going on inside!' " he said.

Ever Davila, 28, was sleeping in his apartment near the consulate when the sound of helicopters and police sirens woke him up.

"I saw the guy coming out of the building all in black with a bunch of signs all over him," Davila said. "He was protesting something, but I couldn't make out what it was."

Gildardo Navarro, 43, said he was serving people at his lunch truck just yards from the building when he realized something was wrong.

"People were running out of the building. I saw that and I left," Navarro said. "He ended up being shot and falling near my truck."

Gladys Sandoval, 28, said the shooting happened in a flash.

"There was a blast, and he went down just like that," Sandoval said. "The woman screamed and ran to the police and they took her away. Then the cops were over the guy with their weapons drawn."

Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Solomon Moore and Jason Felch in Los Angeles and Richard Boudreaux in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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