An 18-year-old Chatsworth man was shot and wounded when he struck a Los Angeles police officer with a stolen car, authorities said Tuesday. The officer was a member of a surveillance team that had watched the teen-ager and three other youths steal a car.
Eric Galuppo was shot in the left arm about 11:20 p.m. Monday by Detective Charles Bennett, 32, in the 10600 block of Variel Avenue. Police said Bennett opened fire when Galuppo disregarded an order to surrender, accelerated the car and struck the officer with its fender.
Bennett did not require medical care. Galuppo was in stable condition at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where he was being held in the jail ward on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer, police said.
Police said two juveniles from Duarte and Rennald Munoz, 19, of Chatsworth were arrested on suspicion of auto theft.
Detective Bill Holcomb of the Officer Involved Shooting team said the incident began when members of the department’s Special Investigations Section, or SIS, placed the four suspects under surveillance Monday evening. They did so after receiving information that the teen-agers were suspected of being involved in a series of armed robberies and car thefts in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.
Holcomb said there was not enough evidence to arrest the suspects so authorities decided to watch them with SIS. The SIS squad became embroiled in controversy last year after a report in The Times revealed that the unit sometimes watched dangerous criminals commit violent crimes before arresting them, and that the unit’s arrests resulted in a high number of officer-involved shootings.
On Monday, all four suspects were in one car, which police later determined was stolen March 16 in Pasadena, Holcomb said. The suspects were followed by plainclothes SIS officers from the downtown area to Chatsworth, he said. At 11:10 p.m., the suspects were watched as they allegedly stole a 1985 Toyota in the 19000 block of Nashville Street, he said.
With three suspects in the other car and Galuppo driving the Toyota, the suspects drove away, then parked both cars on nearby Variel Street, Holcomb said. The SIS officers then moved in to make arrests. Munoz and the juveniles, ages 16 and 17, surrendered without incident, but Galuppo did not, Holcomb said.
“He refused to surrender and attempted to flee the scene,” Holcomb said. “Galuppo suddenly accelerated and struck Detective Bennett.”
Bennett fired four shots at Galuppo, who continued to drive away, Holcomb said. The car driven by Galuppo was followed from above by a police helicopter for about a mile until it crashed into the rear of an apartment building in the 9900 block of De Soto Avenue. Holcomb said Galuppo got out of the car and ran through the apartment complex but was captured by patrol officers called to the scene.
The shooting Monday was the second involving the SIS unit this month. Both incidents involved Bennett.
March 14 Incident
On March 14, four SIS officers, including Bennett, fired 14 shots at two suspected kidnapers who were trying to escape after allegedly picking up a package of ransom money in south Los Angeles, police said. One of the suspects was killed and the other escaped.
Afterward, police said the kidnap suspects were apparently unarmed, but officers defended their action saying that the suspects were believed to have weapons. Authorities also said officers believed that if the suspects escaped, an abducted woman and her child would be harmed.
Last month, after a review of SIS activities prompted by the report in The Times, the Police Department issued a new “reverence for human life” policy that instructs officers to protect potential crime victims even if it jeopardizes an undercover investigation.