Fatal OIS marks first time LAPD fires from helicopter

Police Chief Charlie Beck said the decision to bring in officers trained to fire from a helicopter was not taken lightly


By Kate Mather
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles police fired a rifle from a helicopter during a shootout with a man killed in Sunland earlier this week, marking the first time that specially trained SWAT officers have opened fire from a helicopter hovering over a scene, the LAPD said Tuesday.

Chief Charlie Beck told reporters that an autopsy would reveal how many times the 29-year-old man was struck by gunfire on Monday afternoon — and whether it came from officers on the ground or in the helicopter. But, the chief said, it appears he was struck by gunfire from the air.

Police shootings from helicopters are rare. Experts have said such shootings are justified only in the most desperate situations and when other tactics might be more dangerous.

The decision to bring in officers trained to fire from a helicopter was not taken lightly, Beck said. It requires approval from a high-level officer — in this case, an assistant chief who also discussed it with Beck beforehand.

“When the geography and the circumstances dictate, we want to make sure that it’s available. That’s exactly what happened in this instance,” Beck said.

The events leading up to the shooting began earlier that day, Beck said, when a woman woke up and saw an intruder who had broken into her home. The woman escaped through a bedroom window and called police, the chief said.

When officers arrived, Beck said, they peered through a window of the home and saw the man had armed himself with a gun belonging to one of the people who lived there. The officers then backed off and called for a SWAT team, Beck said.

As officers surrounded the house, police used a bullhorn to try to persuade the man to surrender, department officials said.

The house — on Althea Drive — was at the top of a hill, surrounded by brush and debris, Beck said. That created what the chief described as a “very difficult location” for SWAT officers, contributing to the decision to bring in the officers trained to fire from a helicopter.

“The suspect definitely had high ground at all of the ground officers, was firing indiscriminately at them — and actually fired at the helicopter, we believe,” Beck said.

At some point, police fired tear gas into the house to try to force the man outside. He was shot when he emerged around 2:45 p.m. and opened fire at police, an LAPD spokeswoman said Monday.

After the man was shot, his body rolled down a ravine, where he was pronounced dead. Authorities have yet to release the man’s name, saying his relatives had not been notified.

Multiple officers fired their guns during the encounter, Beck said. A department spokesman said no officers were injured, nor was the woman who initially was inside the home.

An investigation into the deadly encounter is underway, which is standard procedure for all shootings by LAPD officers. It also will be reviewed by the district attorney’s office, the Police Commission and its inspector general.

Beck told police commissioners Tuesday that investigators still were searching the scene, hampered in part by tear gas vapors still lingering inside the house. But, Beck said, it appeared that department officials acted appropriately when deciding to put SWAT officers inside the helicopter.

“It requires very specific criteria that have to be met regarding terrain, regarding weather, regarding the threat to the community, regarding the other options that have been utilized,” the chief told his civilian bosses. “It appears that those criteria were met. Obviously there will be further review of this to ensure that.”

In 2015, San Bernardino County sheriff’s officials used a helicopter to fire on a driver leading police on a wrong-way chase on the 215 Freeway. A department spokeswoman at the time said the decision to fire from the air was made because the suspect “had been threatening the safety of the public by traveling at a high rate of speed, running stop signs and red lights, narrowly missing pedestrians and traveling southbound on the northbound freeway.”

Perhaps the most famous police helicopter shooting in Southern California occurred in 1982 and involved a bank robbery suspect.

According to Los Angeles Times reports at the time, Stephen Moreland Redd, 37, robbed a bank in Orange County and was pursued by authorities during a wild 110-mph chase and gun battle through three counties.

Police said Redd fired at officers with an automatic weapon in one hand while steering his car with the other. One officer was wounded.

He surrendered after a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department deputy in a helicopter hovering 20 feet above the freeway fired on his car with a .357 Magnum pistol. Officials told the Times that the deputy waited for a break in freeway traffic before firing the shot, which hit Redd’s rearview mirror.

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©2017 Los Angeles Times


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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