Faces of Death: 10 Men Slain by Officers in Riots : Victims: All were shot by police and troops who said they were under attack. Some dispute official accounts.
The deadliest sector of Los Angeles on the first night of rioting was the heart of Watts, four miles from the now infamous intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues where people were beaten on live TV.
Far from the cameras, as shops blazed on the perimeter of the Nickerson Gardens housing project, police fired 88 rounds in firefights with snipers.
When the smoke had cleared, longtime Watts residents DeAndre Harrison, Anthony J. Taylor and Dennis R. Jackson were dead, killed by LAPD bullets. Police said the three were part of roving bands shooting at officers, but friends and relatives have questioned the official accounts.
“It was a very dangerous area--the officers had hundreds of rounds fired at them,” LAPD Lt. William Hall said. “With all that lead in the air, you’d think more people would have been hit.”
During five days of unrest, 10 young men died at the hands of law officers across the Los Angeles Basin, from Compton to Pasadena.
All were shot by officers who said they were under attack. In one case, the victim was allegedly holding a shotgun. In another, the weapon turned out to be a plastic toy. A third victim, allegedly armed with a beer bottle, was shot during a struggle with a police officer. A 15-year-old was shot below the shoulder blade as he tried to flee over a fence with several alleged looters.
One man, killed by a ricocheting police bullet, was just a bystander.
Guns were recovered in two of the 10 fatal shootings. In another instance, officials said a driver threatened the lives of National Guard troops by driving his car wildly toward their barricades.
Witnesses and friends have alleged that several victims were unarmed or innocent. “I know we need the police. This would be a rough place to live without them,” said the Rev. Charles Mims Jr., pastor of Tabernacle of Faith Baptist Church, which held funerals for Harrison and Jackson. “Most of the police officers were frightened and panicked. . . . People believe the two deaths were needless.”
Officer-involved shootings typically result in conflicting versions of events. But with the confusion and destruction during the riots, sorting out the facts will prove particularly difficult, authorities said.
Inquiries are expected to take longer than the usual one to three months, in part because the district attorney’s office did not follow its normal practice of immediately sending investigators to the scenes to determine whether officers had acted properly.
The decision was made, officials said, because of fears for the safety of investigators. “These have become a little difficult (to probe) in the sense they are not cases we rolled out on,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Roger Gunson, head of special investigations. The rollouts resumed May 6, a week after the turmoil began.
Police officials said some residents are reluctant to help investigators. “I think a lot of them are just scared,” LAPD Detective William F. Holcomb said.
The percentage of officer-involved deaths--10 of nearly 60--was lower than in the 1965 Watts riots, in which 23 of 34 deaths came from law enforcement fire.
This time, six people were killed by LAPD officers and one each by a sheriff’s deputy, National Guard troops and police in Compton and Pasadena.
Two LAPD officers who killed people during the riots had previously killed in the line of duty. One was criticized by Police Chief Daryl F. Gates for prematurely firing his weapon.
Few victims had expressed strong views about the Rodney G. King verdicts that precipitated the violence, according to friends and relatives.
Six of the dead were black, three were Central American immigrants and one was of Mexican ancestry.
All were single males ranging in age from 15 to 38 who were unemployed high school dropouts. Several had criminal records.
Besides grieving parents and friends, the victims left behind 20 children, with four on the way.
What follows are sketches of their lives and deaths:
Less than four hours after truck driver Reginald O. Denny and others were attacked at Florence and Normandie, four LAPD officers in a patrol car said they came under intense fire from looters outside a Korean-American-owned store at Central Avenue and 112th Street.
The officers returned fire, then roared off to await reinforcements. One of seven rounds they fired had hit a heavyset, shirtless gunman.
When they returned, the victim and his weapon had vanished. But LAPD officials later learned that 17-year-old DeAndre Harrison had died of a gunshot wound at the hospital, and ballistics tests showed that he had been struck by a 9-millimeter bullet fired by Officer John Alviani.
Harrison was angry over the verdicts in the King beating case, relatives said, and had helped loot clothing stores earlier in the night.
But whether he was the shirtless suspect who shot at police is another question.
About 10:30 p.m., there was a soft knock on the door of an apartment Harrison’s girlfriend shared with her mother, Myra Collins. It was Harrison, Collins said later, and he was wearing a blood-drenched T-shirt with a small bullet hole in the chest.
“It was just like when you watch these Westerns and they stagger in the door,” she said.
After Collins and a friend drove Harrison to the hospital in the back of a pickup truck, emergency room staffers tore off the T-shirt, Collins said. The shirt and a bloodstained towel lay on her kitchen floor for two days, she said, before she threw them into a dumpster.
“I don’t know what DeAndre was doing,” Collins said. “I don’t know if he was an angel or a devil. But he did have on a white T-shirt.”
Lt. Hall said in response: “There’s a possibility there were two big fat guys out there that night but . . . it doesn’t appear to be the case.”
Harrison died on the same floor of Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center as his father, Claudell, did 12 years ago. His father was shot by an unknown gunman.
“He was just a kid that got caught up in a vicious cycle,” said Verbum Dei High School Principal Robert Mendoza, who had known Harrison for years. “It’s very difficult to live around here.”
As a youngster, Harrison had dreamed of becoming a football star and won a trophy for playing in the Sheriff’s Department youth league. By his early teens, however, he had quit school and begun hanging out with the Bounty Hunters street gang. He fathered three children with three women, one now pregnant with his twins.
As Harrison was driven to the hospital, chaos reigned in the neighborhood around the cinder-block compound of Nickerson Gardens.
“It was anarchy, total anarchy,” said Lt. Michael Hillman of the LAPD’s Metro Division, which includes SWAT teams. “You had people running in the streets, looting, shooting at firefighters, shooting at police. Total chaos.”
But nearby, Dennis (Bull) Jackson and Anthony (Romeo) Taylor were doing what they usually did on warm spring nights, according to friends--hanging out in the parking lot near Jackson’s apartment, drinking beer. This time, they said, the pair got their liquor for free.
“Bull was very happy that night,” said a friend who identified himself only as Kit. ‘Someone had laid a case of (looted) liquor on him.”
About 11:10 p.m., nearby gunfire caused a dozen or more men in the parking lot to scatter. When the shots stopped, Jackson and Taylor were dead.
Kit said officers across the streets had fired on the parking lot because a man, wearing a hood and waving a handgun, had bounded through the area firing at other officers down the block.
“The officers fired (back),” said Kit. “They hit Bull and Tony. They were innocent victims.”
According to the LAPD, about 30 Metro Division officers had arrived at Nickerson Gardens shortly after 11 p.m. to cover three Fire Department units sent to fight blazes at Central Avenue businesses. For the next few hours, police engaged in sporadic firefights with three groups of snipers.
Some officers worked their way south along Alvaro Street, taking cover between houses, Detective Holcomb said.
Reaching a position across from the parking lot, Officers John Puis and James L. Moody saw a man at the corner of an adjoining building fire a rifle at two officers down the block, Holcomb said. Puis fired several rounds from his AR-15 assault rifle.
Although Jackson and Taylor were shot at 11:10 p.m., according to police, officers pinned down by gunfire were unable to recover their bodies and pronounce them dead for more than an hour. They were forced to use a six-ton armored personnel carrier to re-enter the area.
Ballistics tests concluded that Jackson and Taylor were struck once by high-powered .223-caliber bullets fired by Puis, 44, one of two LAPD officers involved in a controversial 1991 scuffle with a black woman employee outside the Parker Center jail. The outcome of an internal investigation has not been disclosed.
Jackson, according to a preliminary coroner’s account, was shot in the back, and his body was found inside his front door. A bullet passed through Taylor’s head and neck, the coroner said, and his body was found outside the building. No weapons were recovered.
Officers said they do not know whether Taylor had been shooting. But they believe that Jackson, based on his clothing, was the gunman firing from the corner of the building.
Jackson lived in the building with his girlfriend, his mother and one of his three children. Taylor, who left six children, lived on the streets. Both were unemployed and had criminal records. Jackson was arrested twice on burglary charges and once served time for setting a fire. Taylor served time for selling cocaine and stealing meat.
Taylor’s mother, Juanita Henry, said he had stolen her VCR last month so he could sell it to feed his crack habit.
Henry said she was “shocked and relieved” after hearing of her son’s death. “He was homeless, he was doing drugs. . . . I was waiting to hear it any day.”
When Gloria Andrew was sent home before noon from the school where she worked, the streets of Compton were jammed with looters.
“Brian, don’t go out there,” she recalls warning her son.
Brian Andrew, a happy-go-lucky man who worked odd jobs in construction, agreed to stay home. But 30 minutes later, he left and never returned.
After trying in vain to locate her son, Gloria Andrew filed a missing person report six days later. The next day, a Compton police officer knocked on her door to tell her the bad news.
Andrew was seen running from a nearby shoe store with other looters, police said, and was carrying boxes of shoes and a large bottle of beer.
Andrew had dropped the shoes and was waving the bottle when Detective Stone Jackson, a 21-year veteran, caught up with him in an alley and shot him once in the face as they grappled, police said.
The initial coroner’s report said Harris died of multiple gunshot wounds. Police said one shot was fired.
Andrew’s brother, Eric, a principal in the Claremont School District, questioned the police account. “They’re talking about using reasonable force and that seems pretty damned (unreasonable),” Eric Andrew said.
After hearing rumors that his brother was shot in the back of the head, Eric Andrew requested an autopsy report from the coroner’s office, which has been inundated with requests for information about riot deaths.
Andrew, the father of two 14-year-old girls, had minor run-ins with police, his mother said, and once served six months in the California Youth Authority on an assault conviction.
But she said it was “inconceivable” that he would strike an armed officer. “He wasn’t that type of person.”
By midafternoon, arson had broken out across Los Angeles. Mark Garcia, 15, was one of those attracted by the flames.
Mark lived with his mother and an 18-year-old brother in a converted garage a few blocks southwest of the Forum.
The gangly youth had stayed out of trouble, even if he did run with some gangbangers, his mother said. Moody and quiet, he liked to draw and wanted to be an architect or a police officer.
Friends said he was drawn by curiosity to the looting and fires in a mini-mall at Hawthorne Boulevard and 101st Street but did not participate.
An initial Sheriff’s Department report alleged that Mark was one of four jewelry shop looters who fled in a black Ford Tempo and engaged in a shootout with Deputies Wayne Beckley and Jeffrey Moore.
The suspected looters bailed out of their car six blocks away. Deputies caught up with them in a nearby parking lot and returned fire, killing Mark.
The boy turned out to be unarmed. Witnesses, including two youths in the Tempo, have told The Times that Mark had not been in the car with them.
Late last week, sheriff’s investigators confirmed that Mark was already at the parking lot when the looting suspects arrived and was shot while fleeing with them from deputies.
Authorities said Mark was ordered to stop before he was shot while scaling a fence along with a youth who was firing at deputies.
Two witnesses deny that the deputies gave a verbal warning to Mark and said none of the youths were shooting.
Alphonso Jacobo, 17, who was in the car being pursued, said he was hiding behind a large plywood storage container when the shooting started.
“I was like a couple feet away from (Mark when he got shot,” Jacobo said. “They didn’t say stop or freeze or anything.”
A nearby resident with a view of the parking lot who asked to remain anonymous said the deputies never shouted but fired a warning round into the air before shooting Mark.
The initial coroner’s account said Mark was shot in the chest. But sheriff’s Investigator Ronnie Lancaster confirmed witnesses’ reports that Mark was hit just below the right shoulder blade.
“The back sounds bad because it looks like they were shooting him in the back,” Lancaster said. ". . . But it was a justified shooting because the (other) kid on the fence with the gun was shooting at the deputies and the deputies believed Garcia had a gun also.”
Lancaster said no gun or stolen merchandise was found on Mark.
Alphonso and Richard Haas, 15, who was also in the fleeing car, deny that any shots were fired at the deputies.
Franklin Benavidez never said goodby.
Until 5 p.m., the 27-year-old Salvadoran immigrant had been at home with his mate, Maria, and their 3-year-old son, Franklin Jr., in their cluttered ground-floor apartment in Baldwin Village.
The couple’s TV was broken. But a glance out their living room window told them everything they needed to know. People streamed by, arms loaded with loot. Smoke filled the air. And they got several phone calls from Franklin’s sister Rosa, who was concerned about them because she was watching the rioting on TV in her home near Carson City, Nev.
Maria was washing dishes about 5 p.m. when there was a knock on the door. She assumed that her husband had stepped outside with a friend. He even left his wallet behind. But she would not see him that night. Or the next day. Or ever again.
On Saturday, Maria went to the LAPD’s Southwest Division station to inquire about her husband. An officer at the counter wrote down the coroner’s phone number and told her to call.
Franklin Benavidez was shot, police said, after fleeing from a gas station that he tried to rob at Western and Vernon avenues. Benavidez pointed a shotgun at officers after being ordered to drop it, they said.
Metro Division Officers Michael Daly, James Hart and Michael Damianakes fired 10 rounds, investigators said.
The second suspect, Victor Munoz, 19, was struck in the stomach, police said, when he appeared to arm himself with a handgun. Munoz, who was hospitalized for two weeks, was not arrested. Investigators later determined that Munoz was carrying a beer can.
Munoz said Benavidez did not have a gun and did not try to rob the gas station.
J.C. Wilburn, who operates the Shell station, said two Latino men--one with a shotgun--tried to rob his business moments before the shooting, but left when he and two co-workers displayed guns of their own.
Almost immediately after the would-be robbers turned the corner, Wilburn said, gunfire rang out.
A few minutes later, a police officer came to the gas station to confirm that there was an attempted robbery. The officer said: “Well, he won’t be bothering you anymore,” Wilburn recalled.
The fatal bullets were fired by either Daly or Damianakes, officials said.
Damianakes was on hand when Jackson and Taylor were slain by police a day earlier, but was not involved in the fatal gunfire, investigators said. Damianakes, 46, a 23-year veteran, shot and killed a gunman at Nickerson Gardens in 1989. The shooting was ruled to be justified.
A nine-year veteran, Daly was criticized by Gates in 1987 in the fatal shooting of a black man. The officer was ordered to undergo remedial training, including instruction in the escalation of force.
Daly was the second officer involved in the scuffle at Parker Center last year.
Benavidez, who moved to the United States in 1985, was born in El Salvador and had served in the Salvadoran Army. In Los Angeles, he repaired cars and delivered telephone books.
On the evening of her mate’s burial--on credit at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills--Maria planned to bring her child to a church for dinner because she had no money.
“Franklin supported me and took care of my child,” she cried. “Who else will protect me now?”
Across town, near MacArthur Park, other Metro Division officers saw looters swarming out of Sam’s Corner Liquor Store at 6th Street and Westlake Avenue.
As more than 40 suspects were arrested, a young Honduran immigrant named Cesar (Shorty) Aguilar was ordered to lie prone. But officers say he pulled what appeared to be a gun from his waistband and pointed it toward them.
Officers James McDonald and Joan Leuck fired at the 18-year-old with a 9-millimeter pistol and a shotgun. He was struck in the chest and died at the scene, according to an initial coroner’s account.
The “gun,” however, was a plastic toy with a black barrel and brown grips, officials said.
Aguilar, an illegal immigrant, had lived for five months in the Park View Luxury Apartments, a $450-a-month residence hotel at MacArthur Park. Friends said he delivered newspapers for a living.
Aguilar carried a .38-caliber revolver for protection until five days before his death, according to Leticia Hernandez, a friend. It was confiscated by police, she said, during a traffic stop.
“He didn’t have toys--period,” Hernandez said.
A father of two, Aguilar had planned to return to Honduras to be reunited with his pregnant girlfriend.
Aguilar’s body was flown back to Honduras at that government’s expense because Aguilar’s family could not pay the $1,976, Consul General Rene Francisco Umana said.
The consulate made plans to sell Aguilar’s 1981 Buick Regal and send the proceeds to the dead man’s family.
“It’s so sad,” Umana said. “Maybe he didn’t have an idea to hurt anybody . . . but the situation was so difficult, so grave.
“In L.A., things can happen.”
By Friday afternoon, some semblance of order was finally returning to Los Angeles. Charles (Sticks) Orebo and two friends, Andre Webb and Lavelle (Frog) Williams, discussed shooting some hoops the next morning. With the approach of the evening curfew, Orebo drove Webb, a baggage handler at Los Angeles International Airport, toward a South Los Angeles house where he planned to spend the night.
Near Florence Avenue and the Harbor Freeway, Orebo tried to make a lane change, nearly cutting off a car behind him. The other driver honked and pulled alongside at a stoplight.
Williams drew a handgun, loaded it and pointed it past Orebo toward the other driver--Brian Liddy, an LAPD officer who was out of uniform and en route to work.
“The guy looked at us,” Webb said, “and he jumped like he was in shock. Then he pulled up his gun. . . . Then he shot like three times and hit Sticks.”
Orebo, mortally wounded, punched the accelerator. The car lurched into a wall and caught fire.
Meanwhile, Williams began firing at Officer Liddy--and off-duty Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Taylor came to Liddy’s aid and joined in.
Webb and Williams ran away but were arrested. Williams pleaded not guilty to murder charges stemming from Orebo’s death. Webb was not charged.
Orebo, a dropout and the father of a 4-year-old son, planned to get married next month and become an auto mechanic, said his mother, Georgia Alfred.
He had been jailed a couple times for traffic tickets and other small offenses, she said. “But nothing violent. No guns or anything like that.”
Alfred said her son and Williams watched the verdicts in the King beating case together and were angry “but he wasn’t going out beating anyone or carrying a gun.”
“From what I gathered, my son didn’t know (Williams) had the gun until he pulled it up,” she said. “I’m angry, but I’m angry with the young man.”
They called him “Nine Lives.”
Twice in the last five years Howard E. Martin was a passenger in cars where the driver was killed.
Once, it was a late-night automobile crash. The other time a friend was shot in the head by masked gunmen. “The boy just fell into Howard’s lap,” recalls his sister, Wanda.
Howard Martin’s luck finally ran out three days after the verdicts in the King beating case. The father of three, who grew up only a couple of blocks from King, was killed by a stray bullet.
The incident began, police said, when two officers tried to disperse more than 150 party-goers at a Pasadena apartment complex but were greeted with rocks and bottles--and gunshots.
Nearly 25 more officers arrived quickly, and 10 of them fired a total of 70 rounds at several assailants.
Martin, relatives said, was visiting friends at a nearby apartment when he stepped onto a balcony to look at what was going on. He was struck in the head by a police bullet that apparently ricocheted off the street, police said.
Police have taken the position, contrary to the county coroner’s office, that the death was not riot-related. But Lt. Van Anthony said the death occurred at a time of heightened tensions and that he does not recall another incident in his 20-year career where officers had fired so many shots.
Martin’s sister and other relatives said police should have shown more control over their gunfire. “They probably felt they were under attack,” she said. “But that doesn’t justify firing 70 rounds.”
Martin, a stocky man with an irrepressible smile, labored part time in construction jobs. While a teen-ager, the Pasadena native worked at a now-closed Altadena center for handicapped children operated by his grandmother.
During Martin’s funeral at Pasadena’s Deliverance Tabernacle Church of God in Christ, Martin’s two sons, Howard Jr., 2, and Kevion, 1; his week-old baby girl, Tatiana, and the three mothers were seated in the front row.
“The only thing that I get relief out of is that he always wanted a baby girl and I gave him that before he died,” a tearful Sabrina Alexander said. “He saw her right at her birth. And he was so happy.”
Through much of their stay in Los Angeles, National Guard troops patrolled the streets of Los Angeles without bloodshed.
The exception came Sunday night when Marvin A. Rivas, who had served 10 years in the military of El Salvador, was shot to death after allegedly trying to drive his beat-up Datsun twice through barricades at Pico Boulevard and Vermont.
Los Angeles police said Rivas, who went by several aliases, failed to stop the first time even though a soldier pointed his rifle at the windshield. “He sped off and they let him go,” Lt. Hall said.
Five minutes later, Rivas returned and stopped momentarily when a soldier pointed his rifle at him again, Hall said. “Then he accelerated. . . . The guardsman stepped back (to avoid being hit) and started shooting. . . . Two other guardsmen also fired.”
Rivas was struck three times by bullets from the M-16 rifles, authorities said.
Rivas, who left behind a child in El Salvador and a pregnant girlfriend in the Pico-Union district, came to Los Angeles three years ago to try to find work, relatives said.
The relatives were vague about how he made a living. However, Koreatown merchants said he peddled rock cocaine outside their businesses.
One merchant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he also saw Rivas using a sledgehammer to break into stores on the second day of the riots.
Three days later, on Sunday, the National Guard was protecting businesses when merchant Yun Kim saw Rivas driving erratically past Guard troops.
The second time, Kim said, the soldiers appeared “shook up” and they yelled “Stop! Stop!” in English. “If he had stopped right there, he wouldn’t have been killed,” the merchant said.
Some family members speculated that Rivas may have been drunk. Others wondered whether the National Guard had killed him unjustly.
But they said it was difficult to obtain information. Contacting law enforcement authorities for answers, they said, could lead to their deportation.
When Rivas’ wake was conducted in East Los Angeles, the bill of a black baseball cap protruded from his open casket.
It had been supplied by the funeral home, relatives said, for a simple reason: much of the back of his head had been shot off.
Times staff member Lilia Beebe and staff writer Tracy Wilkinson contributed to this story.
Officer-Involved Riot Deaths
Of 56 people who died in the Los Angeles riots, 10 were killed by law enforcement gunfire.
1. DeAndre Harrison, 17, of Los Angeles: Shot at 112th Street and Central Avenue by LAPD officer on April 29 at 10:27 p.m.
2. Dennis Ray Jackson, 38, of Los Angeles: Shot at the Nickerson Gardens housing project, 11322 Alvaro Ave., by LAPD officer on April 29 at 11:10 p.m.
3. Anthony Taylor, 31, of Los Angeles: Shot at the Nickerson Gardens housing project, 11322 Alvaro Ave., by LAPD officer on April 29 at 11:10 p.m.
4. Brian Edmund Andrew, 30, of Los Angeles: Shot at Rosecrans and Chester Avenues, Compton, by the Compton police officer on April 30 at 12:45 p.m.
5. Mark Garcia, 15, of Inglewood: Shot at 107th St. and Hawthorne Blvd., Lennox, by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy on April 30 at 4 p.m.
6. Franklin Benavidez, 27, of Los Angeles: Shot at 4404 S. Western Ave. by LAPD officer on May 1 at 9 p.m.
7. Cesar Aguilar, 18, of Los Angeles: Shot at 6th Street and Westlake Avenue by LAPD officer on April 30 at 9:45 p.m.
8. Charles William Orebo, 21, of Los Angeles: Shot near Florence Avenue exit of Harbor Freeway by LAPD officer on May 1 at 6 p.m.
9. Howard Eugene Martin, 22, of Pasadena: Shot at 1279 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena, by Pasadena police officer on May 1 about 11 p.m.
10. Marvin Rivas, 25, of Los Angeles: Shot at Pico and Vermont by National Guard troops on May 3 at 11 p.m.