Police arrested one suspect and conducted an intensive search Wednesday for other gunmen involved in the ambush of two anti-gang unit officers and their prisoner in an unmarked patrol car in South Los Angeles.
Officer Ray Mendoza, 35, a 12-year veteran, and an unidentified 17-year-old were wounded Tuesday night when suspected gang members opened fire while the officers were transporting the youth to the Newton station to be booked on a drug violation charge.
One of the assailants was killed when the officers returned fire, police said. Mendoza’s partner escaped injury.
The incident prompted Police Chief Willie Williams to issue a directive Wednesday night ordering all patrols units to contain two officers. It was not immediately known how many units would be affected since many patrol units already are manned by two officers.
“Solving this case has one of the highest priorities,” said Newton Division Capt. Jim Tatreau. “We know who was involved and we are confident that they will ultimately be arrested.”
Von Raymond Pledger, 27, was arrested during a search of the area by scores of officers and canine units, LAPD officials said. Several other men taken into custody during the search were questioned and released. Two handguns were recovered at the scene.
“Officers worked all night to try to piece things together,” he said.
The shooting occurred about 6:30 p.m. as Mendoza and his partner, officer Jerry Ballesteros, 28, were driving the youth, suspected of possessing PCP, to the station.
As the two officers drove, they saw several suspected gang members standing in front of an abandoned house on West 53rd Street near Broadway, and one of the gang members appeared to be carrying a gun in his waistband, they told investigators.
Suddenly, at least three of the suspects opened fire on the officers in their vehicle, said Lt. William Hall, who investigates officer-involved shootings for the LAPD. Both officers fired their 9-millimeter pistols in response.
When the shooting subsided, Ballesteros drove the police car out of the area and discovered that his partner and the youth in the back seat were wounded. They were taken to County-USC Medical Center. The youth was listed in stable condition in the jail ward.
Mendoza underwent surgery for wounds to his left knee and chest and was released Wednesday to an undisclosed hospital. He was in stable condition, a spokesman at County-USC Medical Center said. During the police search, the body of an unidentified man believed to have been one of the assailants was found near the scene, police said.
The attack occurred a day after an anonymous fax message was sent to the LAPD threatening retaliation against police for Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and Officer Laurence M. Powell being released from prison while their attorneys appeal their civil rights convictions in the beating of Rodney G. King.
But Tatreau discounted the threat. He said the two officers worked for the anti-gang unit Community Resources Against Street Gangs and Hoodlums (CRASH) and were well acquainted with several of the gang members involved in the attack.
“They knew who these officers were. They see them all the time,” he said. “I think this was personally motivated against officers by gang members they knew.”
At the Newton station, the shooting was an unsettling reminder for many officers of how dangerous their work can be.
“It’s not the first (ambush) and it won’t be the last,” said Detective J. D. Furr.
Neighborhood residents also were familiar with the violence. “It was just another shooting,” said Rashanda Crisp, 21. “There are (police) helicopters out here every night and every day. In fact when you don’t see the police helicopters you wonder what’s wrong.”