Authorities on Thursday defended members of a special Los Angeles police unit who fired 14 shots at two unarmed kidnaping suspects, killing one, and ran over a third with a police car, saying that the officers thought the victims would be killed if the men escaped.
Although no weapons were found at the scene of the Tuesday night incident, police officials said, members of the Special Investigations Section thought the suspects were armed and opened fire when the three fled after retrieving a ransom package that was left in bushes along the Harbor Freeway in South-Central Los Angeles.
Police spokesman Cmdr. William Booth said that the abductors had flashed a handgun early Tuesday when they kidnaped Sharon Annette Langford, 31, and her son Jeffrey, 4, then threatened during telephone calls demanding money to kill the pair if the police were involved.
Lives in Jeopardy
“The officers knew in a most convincing way that the two kidnap victims were in the custody of the kidnapers and were convinced their lives would be in jeopardy if the suspects escaped,” Booth said.
“We are enormously pleased that Sharon and her child are safe.”
Booth made the comments as the Police Department’s robbery-homicide and officer-involved shooting units were continuing to investigate the incident.
Robert Harris, 24, of Los Angeles, was shot in the head and killed during the confrontation with officers on 63rd Street near the freeway. A second man, Henry Bradford, 35, of Los Angeles, was run over by a car driven by Special Investigations Officer Michael Sirk, 44, when he tried to escape, police said. He was taken into custody without further incident.
A third man, who was unidentified, escaped although pursuing officers fired eight shots at him, apparently missing, Booth said.
Langford was kidnaped because her family operates a popular hamburger stand, Meatty Meat Burger, on Pico Boulevard near the Fairfax District, and the abductors believed that her family could pay a hefty ransom, one investigator said.
She was on her way to the stand Tuesday morning when she and her son were abducted near her West Los Angeles apartment, Booth said. Langford told police that three men forced them into a red van, tied and blindfolded them, and that they were driven to three or four places in the city during the day.
Based on her description of events, Booth said, there probably were others helping the three kidnapers.
The special investigations unit, which came under criticism last year when The Times detailed the squad’s practice of watching criminals commit violent crimes before arresting them, staked out the ransom drop site at 8:30 p.m. and ordered the three suspects to stop after one of the men climbed the freeway embankment and picked up the ransom package.
Booth declined to say how much money was in the package, which was recovered by the officers following the confrontation.
About 90 minutes later, Langford and her son were released unharmed in a Watts housing project where the van had been parked. Booth said it was unclear who released the pair, but that it might have been the man who escaped earlier.