Man Commended for Helping Police Killed Outside Bar : Crime: In July he aided an officer who was being dragged by a drunk driver’s car. He is beaten to death by robbers.
Until detectives searched the victim’s apartment, it seemed like another routine Mean Streets killing: James Arthur, 49, self-employed plumber, stomped to death at 1 a.m. Thursday when he resisted four robbers outside a Van Nuys topless bar.
But then Los Angeles police officers made an unexpected discovery among his possessions--a commendation from their own department.
Earlier this year, at the peak of tensions in the wake of the Rodney G. King beating, Arthur had come to the aid of an officer being dragged by a drunk driver’s car and helped subdue the driver.
“He didn’t hesitate,” said Christopher Cortijo, the officer Arthur assisted. “This is very sad.”
Thursday, detectives in the Van Nuys Division homicide unit were out trying to find the men who beat Arthur to death in the alley in back of the Playtime bar.
“They jumped in on this one,” said Lt. Harvie Eubank, who went to the crime scene.
Arthur, a North Hollywood resident for at least four years, called his business Reliable Plumbing and worked construction jobs.
On Wednesday evening, he went with a friend to the bar in the 13300 block of Sherman Way, a stretch of road dominated by auto garages, body shops and cycle businesses. The Playtime features four pool tables, video games, darts and topless dancers.
It’s the type of place, a manager said, where you’ll find “bikers shooting pool with ‘three-piecers.’ ”
With the thumping music playing nonstop inside, none of the 40 people could hear what was going on outside at 1 a.m., said manager Chad Williams.
According to police, that is when Arthur and Richard Ernissee left through the back door and were confronted by four men in an alley leading to the parking lot.
“When they told them they didn’t have money, (the four men) got real mad and started beating them” with their fists and feet, said Detective Stephen Fisk.
Leaving Arthur and Ernissee sprawled on the ground, the attackers “jumped in a waiting vehicle"--possibly a Chevy Blazer--"and left,” Fisk said.
Ernissee suffered only minor injuries, but Arthur was pronounced dead at Valley Hospital Medical Center, police said.
Hours later, Detective Steve Hooks stumbled across the letter that showed officers another side to the man who lost his life.
“It was on his desk. In a frame,” said Eubank.
On police stationery and dated July 29, it praised Arthur’s “willingness to become involved.”
At 10:25 p.m. on July 14, he and another man had flagged down Cortijo on Sepulveda Boulevard in Van Nuys to alert him to a motorist ahead, weaving across the road. “They yelled at me: ‘He’s drunk, driving real crazy!’ ” the officer recalled Thursday.
Cortijo, 29, found the drunk motorist stopped at a red light, apparently passed out. But when the officer reached in to turn off the ignition, the man woke up and the car began moving.
Stuck in the car window, Cortijo found himself being dragged along.
Arthur and the other man ran after the moving car and opened the passenger door to help Cortijo stop the car and subdue the motorist.
Getting such help was “very encouraging,” Cortijo said, “especially at the time.”
Just five days earlier, the Christopher Commission had issued a report describing the distance between police and the public.
The letter to Arthur said in part: “Unlike so many others who turn away and refuse to become involved, (you) helped the officer . . . without regard to your own personal safety (and) undoubtedly prevented injury to the officer and to the suspect.”
On Thursday, police officials said that they never place one murder investigation ahead of another.
But, the lieutenant added: “We have great compassion and feeling toward (Arthur). Here’s a guy who worked with us and helped us. . . . “We got four (detectives) working this case . . . working on it all night and all day.”