Officer’s Killer Purchased Gun for El Salvador : Crime: The man who shot a rookie policewoman intended to leave the United States this week and needed protection in his country, his brother says.
The Salvadoran national who killed rookie policewoman Tina Kerbrat and then was fatally wounded by her partner was preparing to leave the country this week, and had bought the gun used in the tragic confrontation to take with him to his homeland, relatives and police said Tuesday.
Jose Amaya, 32, bought the weapon 20 days earlier from a relative because, in El Salvador, he lives in an isolated, rural area and “everybody over there has guns,” said his brother, Miguel Amaya.
“We are hurting just as much as the other (Kerbrat) family is,” Amaya said from his extended family’s modest home in Sun Valley, a few blocks from where the shooting occurred. “We are human, too.”
Amaya was shot and killed by Kerbrat’s partner about 12:30 a.m. Monday, seconds after he fired on the patrolwoman--the first Los Angeles policewoman slain in the line of duty--with a .357 magnum revolver, police said.
Police said it remained unclear whether Amaya’s imminent departure figured in the killing. It was also unclear whether Amaya was to leave the country voluntarily or whether he thought he was going to be deported.
At an immigration hearing in October, Amaya had dropped a request for political asylum and agreed to leave voluntarily, said Ben Davidian, western regional commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
A month later, however, Congress enacted changes in immigration laws granting 18 months’ safe haven to Salvadorans who arrived in this country before Sept. 19, 1990, Davidian said. Police do not know if Amaya was aware of the change.
Miguel Amaya said his brother, who worked in a factory and in fields in El Salvador, first came to California in 1988. He said Jose went back to his native country, and returned here about seven months ago before the birth of his child. Miguel Amaya said Jose was looking forward to returning home because he wanted to see his wife and 7-month-old son.
Police investigators have not found INS documents related to Amaya’s departure among his belongings, Zorn said.
In an angry statement after the shootings Monday, Police Chief Daryl F. Gates referred to Kerbrat’s killer as “an El Salvadoran drunk--a drunk who doesn’t belong here,” and said her slaying reflected “another failure of our immigration service, (which) doesn’t pay much attention to those who are here, who ought not to be here.”
On Tuesday, those comments were condemned by immigrant rights advocates and Police Commissioner Melanie Lomax, who called Gates’ remarks “racist” and damaging to the 500,000 Salvadorans who live in Los Angeles.
At a Police Commission hearing, Lomax said: “I’m at a loss to understand why that status would be brought up. . . . I think it’s inflammatory.”
Gates replied: “He was drunk and he was Salvadoran. I have no regrets for having made that statement.”
In their attempt to find a reason for the shooting, police investigators and INS officials have turned up a tangle of legal problems facing Amaya. But they declined to speculate on whether any of these problems figured into the killing.
Amaya’s troubles began in October, 1988, when INS officials turned down his request for political asylum, Davidian said.
A year later, Amaya waived his right to appeal the denial and agreed to leave the country voluntarily, Davidian said.
Amaya was arrested in August, 1990, while trying to walk around the border checkpoint on Interstate 5 just south of San Clemente after apparently spending a few days in Mexico, Davidian said.
Los Angeles Police Lt. William Hall, in charge of investigating police-involved shootings, said alcohol also may have been a factor in Amaya’s behavior.
Amaya was on probation for a drunk driving conviction stemming from his arrest April 19, 1990, in Pacoima after his car smashed into three parked cars, police said. His blood-alcohol level was 0.23%--nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08%, police said.
“Family members we spoke to said Amaya acts--I believe the word they chose to use was ‘crazy'--when he’s been drinking. But that’s very speculative on their part,” Hall said.
Autopsies were scheduled Tuesday on Amaya and Kerbrat, but toxicological reports are not expected for several weeks, a coroner’s spokesman said.
Police said earlier, however, that Kerbrat and her partner, training officer Earl Valladares, pulled over to question Amaya and his companion because they were drinking beer in public, a violation of the municipal code. Valladares was going to show her how to write the citation, police said.
Police officials said that they had not yet decided what charges to seek against Amaya’s companion, James Welch, 24, of Sun Valley, who is on parole for a drug conviction, but that murder was unlikely.
“We don’t believe Welch had any involvement in this at all except for being there,” Hall said. “He didn’t participate, he didn’t encourage it.”
Zorn described Amaya and Welch as jobless acquaintances.
“They kind of ran into each other Sunday and one happened to have a supply of beer,” Zorn said.
Zorn said that drinking in public was a violation of Amaya’s probation, which could have resulted in his being jailed.
“It is all speculation,” Zorn stressed. “We have thought about it but we will never get an answer. The only one who knows why Amaya shot was Amaya.”
Times staff writers Michael Connelly and Charisse Jones and staff photographer Rolando Otero contributed to this story.
OFFICERS KILLED IN LINE OF DUTY
A mother of two young children became the first woman in the Los Angeles Police Department ever killed in the line of duty, as she and her partner stopped to investigate two men drinking beer Sunday night. The killing raised to 176 the number of LAPD officers who have died in the line of duty since 1907. Of those, 89 were killed by assailants, 36 in car crashes, 31 in motorcycle collisions, 6 in helicopter accidents and 14 in other incidents, including bomb explosions. These are officers killed since 1985.
Name/ Date Killed Circumstance Division Thomas Williams 10/31/85 Shot in ambush by an North Hollywood accused robber he testified against the day before Arleigh McCree 2/8/86 Killed attempting Bomb Squad to defuse bomb Ronald Ball 2/8/86 Killed attempting Bomb Squad to defuse bomb Randol Marshall 6/2/87 Traffic accident Valley Traffic James Pagliotti 6/22/87 Shot by narcotics suspect Metro James Beyea 6/7/88 Shot by burglary suspect North Hollywood Daniel Pratt 9/3/88 Gang-related 77th drive-by shooting Derrick Connor 12/12/88 Police vehicle collision Central Manuel Gutierrez Jr. 12/12/88 Police vehicle collision Central David Lee Hofmeyer 12/12/88 Police vehicle collision Central Norman Eckles 4/24/89 Shot 12/1/83 while Administrative serving a search warrant, Narcotics died from wounds Russell Kuster 10/9/90 Shot repeatedly in the Hollywood chest by prison parolee Tina Kerbrat 2/11/91 Shot in the head during North Hollywood routine investigation of two men drinking beer.
NOTE: Two other officers died of heart attacks while on duty during this period.
Source: Los Angeles Police Department
Compiled by Times researcher Cecilia Rasmussen