Gang Is Suspected of Firing on Officers : Crime: One is injured as bullet ricochets off his patrol car. Retaliation for the death of a gang member may be the motive.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles police officer was grazed by a gunshot outside a Wilmington housing project over the weekend in apparent retaliation for the death hours earlier of a gang member who was fleeing police, authorities said Monday.

Harbor Division Officer Don Linfield was only bruised in the Sunday morning shooting, which is still under investigation. Police and community activists, meanwhile, sought Monday to prevent further violence that might stem from the death early Saturday of John Santos, 21, of Wilmington.

"Things could get out of hand if we don't do something quickly," said Dee Wiggington, president of Mothers Against Gangs, a Wilmington community group that planned an emergency meeting Monday night.

Linfield was wounded about 2 a.m. Sunday outside Dana Strand Village, a 384-unit housing project that was the scene about 24 hours earlier of the incident that ended in Santos' death.

Authorities said Santos was walking through the housing project about 3 a.m. Saturday when he saw officers on patrol and fled, apparently ingesting narcotics as he ran. After running a short distance, Santos collapsed and began choking, police said. The officers, who had chased him, used the Heimlich maneuver in a vain attempt to clear the man's windpipe, police said.

A small group of bystanders demanded that officers use cardiopulmonary resuscitation to revive Santos, police said. But the officers and an ambulance attendant continued their efforts, insisting that it was useless to use CPR while Santos' windpipe was blocked. The young man was finally taken by ambulance to Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Harbor City, where he was pronounced dead at 4:05 a.m.

Police said Monday it was unclear whether Santos died from choking or from ingesting narcotics, believed to be cocaine. A coroner's spokesman said the cause of death was tentatively listed as choking pending an autopsy.

Hours after Santos' death, police said, fellow gang members held a wake, promised retaliation for his death and spray-painted death threats against police on the housing project's walls.

Sunday morning, Linfield and his partner, Officer Pete Vasquez, were shot at as they patrolled Dana Strand in their police car. A bullet ricocheted off the car and struck Linfield, who was driving. A search failed to turn up the gunman, police said.

"Gang members always make threats after one of their own is killed. But for them to write on walls and then actually shoot at police is serious. They're not playing games," Wiggington said.

Harbor Division Capt. Joe DeLadurantey said he hopes to meet today with Dana Strand residents to explain that his officers did all they could to save Santos. "We want to make sure that everyone understands the facts," he said.

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