Behind the Scenes at a Police Barricade: It's a Waiting Game

Aaron Curtiss is a Times staff writer.

The past few months have not been easy on Dick Izzi.

He is getting a divorce.

He is unemployed.

A rattlesnake bit his dog.

And the bank foreclosed on his house.

So when police cars converged on Izzi's Canyon Country house with sirens screaming a few days ago, he figured they had come to get him. OK, but did they have to bring the helicopter?

"I thought, 'Jesus, they're going to a lot of trouble to get me out of my house,' " Izzi said.

And so began a day that folks along Green Mountain Drive are unlikely to forget soon, the day Zackary Huntley came to visit. Huntley is a 35-year-old Los Angeles man who sheriff's deputies say tried to hide from the law in Izzi's house after robbing a bank customer in Palmdale and leading the cops on a wild chase down the Antelope Valley Freeway.

The deputies, see, were not after Izzi at all, but his unwanted "guest."

"What a relief," Izzi said later, standing shirtless in the dusty neighborhood where years of relentless sunshine has faded colors into the dull shades of a 1950s color movie. Izzi had another week before the marshals would come to evict him.

Huntley's standoff with the law made the news. Maybe you read the story, or saw the TV pictures. Although they described what happened, they left out the flavor, so here's the carnival you miss if you don't hang out at "barricaded suspect" situations:

No one actually saw Huntley enter Izzi's house, but an LAPD helicopter watched him monkey with the back door and then lost sight of him. That was enough. Deputies sealed off the neighborhood. The special weapons team--guys in body armor with automatic weapons--was called in. Nearby off-ramps were closed. Trucks loaded with electronic gear ran yards of electrical cable across the street. Reporters and photographers canvassed the neighborhood. A command post was established.

And then everybody waited.

And waited.

For the two dozen or so men in combat gear and for the negotiators who pleaded unilaterally for Huntley to surrender, the day was hard work. For the rest of the congregation--reporters, firefighters, deputies, commanders, neighbors--it was a lot of just sitting around. "It's a waiting game," as Sheriff's Lt. Harvey Cantor said.

A favorite spot to wait was in the shade on Rudi Ventcke's front lawn: a lawn so thick and green it drew praise from deputies, who reverted from Robocop to Ozzie Nelson from lack of action. "How do you get it so nice?" one asked, adjusting his heavy belt.

"It's constant fertilizing, watering and weeding," Ventcke proudly replied.

A traffic report had to be written when a truck backed into a sheriff's captain's car and dented the driver's-side door. Firefighters ordered pizza. Deputies got sandwiches and milk. Reporters sent one of their number for sodas and chips.

Brief entertainment was provided by members of the special weapons team clinging to the outside of a helicopter as it lifted them to the other side of the neighborhood. "I want prints of this," Cantor told photographers, scrambling to snap any action on a day without much. "Any of you guys shooting color?"

When an idle photographer took pictures of reporters and firefighters lazing on the grass, one scribe complained: "Geez, Gary, my boss would love to see that."

After a briefing by Deputy Bill Wehner, reading from a three-by-five card covered front and back with notes, the reporters scattered and two young boys assessed them.

"What channel is that?" one asked as a reporter passed. "Oh," his friend sneered, "it's just a newspaper."

Bottom feeders on the great media food chain.

Leaning against a patrol car, two deputies recalled amusing barricades past. There was the guy who got shot as he walked out of the house holding a gun. Or the couple who killed themselves rather than give up. Chuckle, chuckle.

Over a photographer's scanner, a member of the special weapons team was heard asking in a whisper whether he could toss a "SWAT rock," which is just about anything that can be used to break a window, into the house. A firefighter lying in the grass heard the request. "SWAT Rock?" he said. "Is that a new show where they sing?"

Minutes later, another voice reported that they had found a suspect.

Six hours had passed. Huntley later said he fell asleep and did not hear loudspeaker requests to surrender.

A police dog, Loebas, found him in the garage and bit him on the leg. It was a minor wound and Huntley gave up.

Not so fast, Huntley. You don't get out of here until the media get some return on a long afternoon. Cooperative deputies kept him inside until cameras were in place to record his capture, then walked him through a 50-yard gantlet of lenses to a patrol car. As the car door slammed on Huntley, who wore black jeans, sneakers and a Charlotte Hornets T-shirt, the mood changed.

Stern men in combat gear took off their helmets and smiled, laughed even. Neighborhood kids tried on body armor as neighborhood dads asked what was inside that stopped bullets. "Well, it's a material manufactured by DuPont. . ."

Loebas and handler Ken Bickerstaff stood ringed by small children. "Can I pet the dog?" one asked. "Sure," Bickerstaff said, and the dog that minutes before had taken a nip out of Huntley's leg calmly relished a child's caresses.

Izzi sat on the oil-stained concrete of his driveway with his dog and best pal, Jessie, who lived through both the snakebite and Huntley's visit. "I didn't care about the house, but I was concerned about the dog," Izzi said, touching his nose to hers. "This is my only friend right now."

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