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Compton Killings Highest in Years

The city saw at least 72 homicides in 2005. Some say the sheriff's response is too passive. Others ask why the city doesn't pay for more patrols.

January 02, 2006|Megan Garvey | Times Staff Writer

At least 72 people were killed in Compton in 2005, the highest toll in a decade for a city that has ranked among the most dangerous in the nation for 30 years.

The rise in homicides frightened residents who have long lived with high levels of gang violence but had seen a downturn in violent crime in recent years.

In addition to those killed in Compton, at least nine more people were shot to death in unincorporated areas within a few blocks of the city boundary.

Many residents have been frustrated over a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department response that they found surprisingly passive in the face of unrelenting violence.

Compton ended 2005 with nearly as many homicides as there are sheriff's deputies paid to patrol the city. Some residents have asked why city officials have not acted more forcefully.

The oldest victim was the first, Reginald Humphries, 61, found bludgeoned to death Jan. 7 in his home on 138th Street.

The youngest was a fetus, shot and killed in an attack in June that wounded five people, including her mother, who was eight months' pregnant.

Within weeks of that shooting, the city had recorded 43 homicides -- more than all of 2004.

Three months later, a gunman shot another pregnant woman in the belly. A baby girl was delivered by emergency caesarean section, born a month early with a gunshot wound to her leg that required surgery. Her mother survived. Her father, Osiel Hipolito, a 20-year-old sailor and veteran of the war in Iraq, did not.

Deputies said Hipolito had no gang ties, and that the attack began when a gang member asked where he was from, and he replied: the U.S. Navy.

The shooting, in the middle of a September afternoon, was recorded by security cameras at a Compton-area mall where Hipolito, his wife and his teenage brother had gone to shop. By then, Compton had recorded 51 killings.

In October, a gunman fired at a male victim on a residential street until he was out of ammunition, then used his weapon to beat to death the victim's female companion.

Two months and 10 homicides later, Labrina Pullard, 17, was shot to death while sitting in a car with her boyfriend, who was wounded in the attack.

On Christmas Day, two Compton men were shot to death -- one in the city, one just outside its borders. Both were Latinos in their 30s.

The city's last victim, Jose Casillas, 19, was shot to death in the early morning on New Year's Eve.

Overall, at least 25 of Compton's dead were Latino, and 43 black. Fifteen were teenagers, six of them 15 or younger. Nine victims were men in their 40s or older.

In addition to those killed in 2005, sheriff's gang officials recorded 282 shootings and attempted murders in Compton through the end of November, a nearly 25% increase over the same period the previous year.

The adult son of City Councilwoman Lillie Dobson was shot and wounded in the leg while riding his bike near his mother's house late last year. Dobson said her son told her that a man had walked up to him and fired without saying a word.

"I think the people feel that they're somewhat frightened," said Otha Ray Scott, 74, a Compton Block Club commissioner and 49-year resident. "You never know what's going to happen from day to day. It might be OK for this moment on this day, but tomorrow all hell may break out."

The rise in killings, the vast majority believed by sheriff's investigators to be gang-related, prompted concern among residents and elected officials but little action. A gang injunction being drawn up by an attorney for the city probably will take months before it is ready to be imposed, city officials said.

Compton, a city of 10 square miles and roughly 96,000 residents, disbanded its 100-year-old police force five years ago and now contracts with the Sheriff's Department for 75 full-time deputies at a cost of more than $13 million a year.

As the violence in Compton rose during the year, Sheriff Lee Baca did not shift additional gang officers or investigators into the Compton station.

Baca's department has more than 1,000 unfilled deputy positions, and department officials have said they cannot increase the number of deputies assigned to Compton unless the city can pay more.

City officials said they had no additional money. The per capita income in Compton is about $10,000, half of the county average.

As violence escalated in Compton, crime dropped in nearby areas patrolled by the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD's Southeast Division station, which serves about 150,000 residents, recorded 62 homicides as of Dec. 24, down from 72 during the same period in 2004.

The division also reported a drop in shots fired and shooting victims. The LAPD deploys more than 250 officers in the Southeast Division to patrol an area about the size of Compton.

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