06/05/2006

LAPD officer shot by killed gunman is stable

Louis Sahagun, Times Staff Writer
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved 

Kristina Ripatti and Tim Pearce joined the Los Angeles Police Department a decade ago, fell in love on the job, married, and went on to become patrol officers in adjacent South Bureau divisions.

On Sunday, Pearce was at his wife's side in a downtown hospital room where she was listed in serious but stable condition after being shot in the chest by a robbery suspect.

Thirteen hours earlier, Pearce had been among the first officers to arrive at the scene of a shooting at La Salle and Leighton avenues, near USC, where a team of officers was struggling to keep Ripatti, 33, alive.

The suspect, 52-year-old James Fenton McNeal, a career criminal who had served multiple prison terms for crimes, including armed robbery and murder, was shot by Ripatti's partner and died at the scene.

At a news conference in the lobby of California Medical Center, Police Chief William J. Bratton said, "this has been the latest in an unfortunately significant increase in the number of unprovoked shootings at our officers in recent weeks."

In response to a question at the news conference, Bratton denied that officers had improperly treated McNeal after he was shot.

"I'm extraordinarily comfortable with the actions of our officers last night," Bratton said. "This involved an unprovoked shooting of an officer who did not even have her weapon out of her holster.

"What we do oftentimes is not pretty, but it's lawful," he added. "The violence in these streets is not pretty. The unprovoked shooting of an officer is not pretty."

It was not clear whether Ripatti's husband was among the officers who confronted McNeal.

The incident occurred about 10:30 p.m., shortly after McNeal ran across the street directly in front of Ripatti's marked patrol car.

"They had to break sharply to keep from hitting him," Bratton said.

The officers left their vehicle and followed the suspect, who reached the front porch of a nearby residence, turned and fired five rounds from a .22-caliber handgun.

Ripatti, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, was hit twice. "One of the bullets entered under the left arm," Bratton said, "striking a portion of her body that was not protected by the vest."

Ripatti's partner, Officer Joe Meyer, fired four rounds, fatally wounding McNeal.

It was later learned that McNeal had allegedly robbed a nearby gas station Saturday evening.

Police investigators intend to examine surveillance video from the gas station.

A Police Department spokesman said McNeal most recently was released from the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo on Aug. 18, 2002, after serving nine years for attempted robbery.

He subsequently spent three years on parole, which ended last November.

Ripatti sustained massive injuries to the left side of her chest, "primarily involving her left lung," according to Dr. Charles Kleinman, a pulmonary specialist. "She lost a fair amount of blood."

"We repaired the various injuries she had," Kleinman said. "Her blood pressure is good. She is waking up and responsive."

Bratton described Pearce, 38, who works in the Southeast Division, and Ripatti, who works in the Southwest Division, as "popular and extraordinary individuals" with a "beautiful 15-month-old daughter."

"This has been quite a lot for a husband to deal with," Bratton said. "He's been helping family members, and other officers, deal with all this."

Police Department Lt. Paul Vernon, who supervised both Ripatti and Pearce in 1998, said that was not surprising.

"Kristina worked for me as a patrol officer, and Tim was in our gang unit -- they both loved being officers," Vernon recalled.

Ripatti, who attended California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks before joining the department, "was always cheerful but very quiet," Vernon said. "Tim was even more reserved than Kristina, but very competent and strong, particularly in times of stress."

"With 10 years of experience, they became role models for their fellow officers," Vernon said. "Now, all their fellows officers will be there as a source of strength for them." 

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