Getaway Car Reportedly Was Out of Gas : Ex-Officer Charged in Botched Robbery

Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles police officer who allegedly stole a $2,500 gold necklace from a North Hollywood jewelry store, then was arrested when his car wouldn't start is facing a charge of grand theft, authorities said.

John D. Leach, 30, a three-year veteran patrol officer in the department's Southwest Division, resigned shortly after the March 5 incident at Talbert Jewelry in the 6500 block of Laurel Canyon Boulevard, Police Cmdr. William Booth said.

Leach pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on Monday, and his preliminary hearing is scheduled April 28, Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Healy said.

Leach's attorney, Bruce Margolin, declined to comment on specifics of the case. He said, however, "I am confident there will be a satisfactory result."

Employees said Friday that a well-dressed man entered their store about 12:30 p.m.

'Wanted to Buy a Chain'

"He said he wanted to buy a chain for his brother's birthday next week, " store manager Beth McClanahan said. I even put it on his neck."

The jewelry piece was described as an 18-inch, 14-carat gold rope-chain necklace valued at $2,595.

McClanahan said she was holding the necklace again "when he just grabbed it out of my hand and he started walking toward the door."

Kenneth Tolson, assistant manager, said he was working near the front window when he noticed the commotion and chased the man into a car parked at the side of the store on Kittridge Street.

After grabbing the necklace and the man's car keys, Tolson said, he headed back to the store.

The suspect approached and retrieved the keys, but the car failed to start and the suspect began pushing the vehicle west on Kittridge, Tolson said.

A patrol car then pulled into the parking lot and, Tolson said, he led police to Leach.

"The cops said the car was out of gas," Tolson said.

If convicted, Leach could receive a sentence ranging from probation to a maximum of three years in prison, Healy said.

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