The Los Angeles County district attorney's office has decided not to file murder charges against a man who shot a dinner companion seven times at an upscale Redondo Beach mall last weekend, saying there is no evidence to disprove the man's claim that he fired in self-defense.
"It's frustrating that a person gets killed in front of all those other people and there's nothing we can do," said Monika Blodgett, chief deputy at the Torrance district attorney's office. "But our hands are tied."
The shooting on the patio of the Red Robin restaurant at the Galleria at South Bay on Saturday occurred just after 6 p.m., following an argument among three men who were having dinner.
According to police, one of the men, Richard F. Scarpino, 23, a Canadian citizen who had been living in Oregon, drew a handgun and started shooting his dinner companion, Aum Trammell, 24, of Long Beach. At least eight shots were fired as diners and shoppers screamed and ducked for cover.
Blodgett said an autopsy showed that Trammell was hit seven times in the head, chest and back. He died at South Bay Hospital in Redondo Beach shortly after the shooting.
Scarpino and another man at the table, Bradley Steven Kyllo, 23, of Vancouver, British Columbia, attempted to flee the scene but were quickly apprehended by Redondo Beach police. Both were carrying handguns and wearing bulletproof vests. Trammell also was carrying a .45-caliber handgun when he was shot, Redondo Beach Police Sgt. Rick Petersen said.
According to police, Scarpino said he shot Trammell because he feared Trammell was going to shoot him. Deputy Dist. Atty. Blodgett said some of the statements taken from about a dozen witnesses confirmed some aspects of Scarpino's story.
"The evidence indicates that one of the suspects drew and fired his gun when the deceased threatened him," Blodgett said. "There is no evidence to refute the suspect's claim that he acted in self-defense."
Petersen said police are not certain what the argument between the men was about, although it may have involved a dispute about the sale of guns. Petersen said the shooting was the fourth homicide in Redondo Beach this year.
Blodgett said Scarpino and Kyllo are being held by U.S. immigration authorities pending deportation to Canada. It is unclear whether the men will face lesser charges in the case.
The manager of the Galleria at South Bay said that despite the incident Saturday he still believes his mall is "the safest mall in the Southland." But several days after the incident at least some mall shoppers seemed to feel that no place is really safe anymore.
"The incident the other night could have happened anywhere," said Duane Bishop, manager at the upscale, 1-million-square-foot mall in Redondo Beach, which was also the scene last week of a reported carjacking and an apparent attempted carjacking. "Crimes are going to happen at public places. It really didn't have anything to do with the mall. But because of our commitment to security we were able to contain the situation immediately. We consider our security program to be a real success story."
Bishop said having the carjacking incidents and the shooting occur in the same week was simply "an unbelievable coincidence," adding that those have been the only serious incidents at the mall during the holiday shopping season, a period in which the mall will have about 3 million visits by shoppers.
"Certainly I'm concerned (about crime)," said Roger Johnson of Rancho Palos Verdes, who was shopping at the Galleria this week with his wife and their three children. "I shop here all the time, and I think the security here is excellent. But things like what happened the other night are hard to predict."
"I feel pretty safe in here," said another shopper, a Hawthorne resident who asked not to be identified by name. "They have a lot of security in here this time of year. But a thing like that (the shooting incident) does worry you a bit."
Bishop said it was the first shooting incident at the mall in eight years. He and others said the quick response after the shooting demonstrated how effective the mall's security is.
"We probably had 14 officers at the scene in 30 seconds," said Redondo Beach Police Officer Jim Banach, who works security at the mall under a cost-sharing agreement that allows mall management to hire sworn officers to work uniformed security shifts. "We had the two (suspects) in custody almost immediately."
Bishop said the Galleria spends about $500,000 a year on security and has about 50 security people on the payroll, including about 25 Redondo Beach police officers who work part-time on their days off. The mall management pays half their wages and the Police Department picks up the rest. The program saves the Police Department from having to send regular on-duty patrol officers to the mall in response to calls.
Although he declined to provide statistics, Bishop said crime has decreased steadily since uniformed officers were made part of the mall's regular security force in 1988.
"Five or 10 years ago malls were reluctant to have uniformed police officers stationed in the mall because people would see them and think, 'Is there a problem? Why are the police here?' " Bishop said. "Now, that has changed. People are glad to see the officers here."
Bishop said additional mall security is provided by civilian volunteers who are stationed on the mall roof to scan parking lots and adjacent areas for suspicious people or criminal activity.