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Police shoot Beverly Hills robbery suspect

LAPD unit captures pair after botched holdup at Lawry's.

July 12, 2008|Mitchell Landsberg and Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles police officers working undercover for a special investigative unit shot and wounded a man Friday morning after trailing him from the scene of an attempted robbery in Beverly Hills, authorities said.

The man, who was arrested, was hospitalized with minor injuries. Another male suspect, who was not wounded, also was arrested, police said.

The 6 a.m. shooting took place at a normally busy Miracle Mile intersection minutes after the men allegedly entered the back of Lawry's the Prime Rib restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills and held the chef at gunpoint.

"He put a gun to my chef's head and said, 'Where's the money?' " said Todd Johnson, the restaurant's manager.

LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck called the suspects "serial robbers" and "takeover bandits." He said the men had been under investigation by the department's Special Investigation Section for some time.

"These are very dangerous individuals, and we're very glad that they've been arrested and taken off the street," Beck said.

The incident began when the two men entered Lawry's from the back just as executive chef Walter Eckstein, 62, was starting his shift, Johnson said.

They held a gun to Eckstein's head and demanded access to the safe, Johnson said.

Eckstein, however, told the men he could not get into the safe, Johnson said.

"They got spooked and they ran out" on their own, Johnson said. "Next thing you know there's a helicopter and police."

Restaurant workers did not know that officers from the Special Investigation Section had been watching.

A helicopter crew had tracked the men's Ford F-150 pickup truck all morning and was communicating with officers on the ground.

Shortly after the botched holdup, the surveillance team called in additional officers on the ground.

As many as 20 officers were involved in what Beck described as a stealthy pursuit, with authorities trailing the suspects by car for about a mile and a half before pulling in front of the pickup and blocking it.

Officers told investigators that the men, still in their truck, threatened them with handguns. Three officers fired six or seven times, striking one suspect. The men then got out and surrendered, Beck said.

The wounded man was taken to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries. No officers were injured and authorities said it was unclear whether the suspects had fired at police.

Investigators shut down roads near the intersections of Fairfax Avenue and San Vicente and Olympic boulevards after the shooting, snarling morning traffic.

Beck said the suspects' handguns were recovered at the scene.

The suspects, whose names were not immediately released, were described by authorities as men in their 40s from the Los Angeles area.

Johnson said he was called to the restaurant by Eckstein minutes after the incident.

Eckstein, who has worked at Lawry's for 20 years, was not injured and went back to work after talking to investigators. "The prime rib's in the oven cooking," Johnson said Friday morning.

The Special Investigation Section, among the most insular in the LAPD, has had a history of fatal shootings of suspects who were under surveillance.

Beck, head of detectives, said Friday's incident was the first officer-involved shooting by a member of the unit in three years.

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mitchell.landsberg @latimes.com

molly.hennessy-fiske @latimes.com

Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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