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Phone charger deflects bullet in deputy's 'life-and-death battle'

October 29, 2013|By Richard Winton and Kate Mather

A cellphone charger saved a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy from further injury early Tuesday after a parolee opened fire during a midnight struggle in Inglewood and the bullet glanced off the pocketed cord. It was a chance hit authorities called “miraculous.”

The suspect – described only as a parolee in his 40s – was shot and killed, but not before he fired again, officials said, grazing the deputy’s partner in the hand. Both officers were treated at area hospitals and released later in the day.

Sheriff Lee Baca said the deputy would have likely been seriously injured had the cellphone charger not blocked the bullet, sending it down her pant leg. It grazed her leg and exited out her pants.

“I have heard of a lot of things stopping rounds, but nothing that small,” sheriff’s Lt. Mike Rosson said. “It is nothing short of a miracle.”

The situation unfolded shortly after midnight as the deputies – passing through Inglewood while moving from one unincorporated area of the county to another – spotted a car with paper plates and no stickers, Rosson said.

The deputies initiated a traffic stop, and the driver pulled into a parking lot in the 3900 block of Century Boulevard. The male passenger immediately jumped out of the vehicle and made a beeline for the trunk, which he opened, Rosson said.

The deputy ordered him to stop, and moved in to pat him down. When she discovered the man had a .40 caliber handgun in his waistband, the suspect physically resisted her, Rosson said.

Her partner tried to secure the man from behind in “a bear hug,” but the suspect was able to free one of his hands, grab his gun and fire. The bullet hit the deputy in her right thigh, but deflected off the charger.

Her partner and the suspect continued to struggle, with the suspect trying to fire his gun, Rosson said. The pair eventually dropped to the ground, he said, and the suspect managed to get his finger on the trigger.

The bullet skimmed the male deputy’s left hand. He pushed away from the suspect and returned fire.

The initial investigation indicated both deputies fired about seven shots, Baca said. The suspect was transported to an area hospital, where he later died.

“It was a life-and-death battle,” Baca said. “It was split-second decision-making by the deputies that allowed them to survive.”

Two other people in the car said they only knew the suspect casually and had offered to give him a ride to the airport, authorities said. They were detained after the shooting but were believed to have no role in the incident.

The shooting itself was under review, standard protocol for fatal incidents involving law enforcement officers.

Baca called it an “extraordinary incident in terms of hand-to-hand combat with a suspect shooting his gun at deputies from close range.”

The fact that one of the bullets hit something as small as a cellphone charger was “pretty much miraculous," the sheriff said.

Rosson agreed.

“Was it miraculous?” Rosson said. “Well, that shot could have gone anywhere. That USB charger may have saved her life.”

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kate.mather@latimes.com

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