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LAPD detectives survive early morning ambush at police station

Streets around the LAPD's Wilshire Division are locked down, but the gunman, described as a black male dressed in black, eludes police.

June 25, 2013|By Andrew Blankstein, Emily Foxhall and Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies with a K-9 unit search along Lomita Street. The shooting in the 4900 block of Venice Boulevard at the LAPD's Wilshire Division near La Brea Avenue occurred about 4:40 a.m., said Los Angeles police Officer Bruce Borihanh.
Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies with a K-9 unit search along… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles police Tuesday were searching for a gunman who they said ambushed two undercover detectives earlier at the Wilshire Division parking lot.

Police spread out across the Mid-City area seeking a suspect but as of Tuesday evening had not arrested anyone in connection with the incident.

Authorities said that the two veteran LAPD burglary detectives pulled up to the Wilshire Division parking lot, swiped their key card and waited for the security gate to open.

But before they could enter, the gunman opened fire, blasting out the rear window of their undercover sedan. One detective suffered a graze wound to the head, the other a minor hand injury.

The officers returned fire, but the gunman ran south into the darkness about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.

"This was a blatant attempt to assassinate two of the people who protect this community," Police Chief Charlie Beck said during a Police Commission meeting.

Police said they do not know the identity of the gunman or why officers were targeted. The detectives, 11- and 20-year veterans of the department, were described as being in "good spirits" and returned to the command post within hours of the attack to help with the search.

The detectives told investigators that they did not recognize their assailant, Cmdr. Andy Smith said. Police stations across the city were placed on heightened alert as authorities tried to determine whether the detectives were specifically targeted or if the threat was against police in general.

"Anybody willing to take on two police officers outside a police station is obviously a dangerous individual," Smith said, adding that the gunman continued to fire at officers as he ran.

Although police quickly locked down the neighborhood, he eluded the hunt.

Two hundred officers joined members of the SWAT team, police helicopters and K-9 units from the LAPD and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in a street-by-street search. Police shut down more than 25 blocks around the substation near Venice Boulevard and La Brea Avenue north of the 10 Freeway and encouraged residents to stay indoors.

Residents were allowed to leave the area only on a case-by-case basis.

Officers worked from a vague description of the gunman: a black male, 30 to 35 years old with a goatee, dressed entirely in black and wearing a hat. Police detained 10 people Tuesday for questioning, but ultimately released all of them without making an arrest.

Residents, many armed with cellphones and video cameras, gathered outside their homes to take in the drama.

Along Lomita Avenue, Anthony Ruiz, 11, sat on the back of his father's pickup with his friend Gustavo Ramirez, 10, and watched the spectacle unfold. An armored vehicle drove past carrying sheriff's deputies wearing helmets. The deputies occasionally hopped off to search outside homes.

"It's like a movie," Anthony said. "It's a little scary because you don't know what's going to come next."

At Venice and Crenshaw boulevards, a small crowd gathered during morning rush hour. Val Jones, 48, wondered how she was going to get home.

The Mid-City resident, who was wearing sweat pants and a denim jacket, lives on St. Charles Place, a few blocks inside the cordoned-off area. Jones said her friend didn't have money for the bus so she walked to an ATM about 6 a.m. to get cash.

But police wouldn't let her back to her house, so she grabbed a 7-Up, a bottle of white wine and sat on the corner to wait.

"I'm tired, I'm ready to go home and I want some breakfast," Jones said about 9 a.m. "Other than that, they have to do what they have to do. I'm fine." Rogelio Diaz lives within the search area and said he used the search as an excuse for a day off.

His brother called about 7 a.m. and told him he had to move his car so police could search the backyard.

"We never have anything like this happen around the neighborhood," he said. "Most of the neighborhood, we didn't go to work. I'll take it as a day off.

Down the street, 19-year-old Dayana Vasquez said the lockdown forced her to miss a class at West Los Angeles College, but she said she didn't mind the inconvenience.

"Seeing this, I feel secure that at least they're trying their best to find who did this," Vasquez said. "They're trying to make us feel protected. That's a good thing."

Times staff writers Angel Jennings, Kate Mather, Joel Rubin and Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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