Killer of Police Was Jurist’s Son; Autopsies Sealed
The man who shot two Palos Verdes Estates police officers to death during a robbery attempt before dying in the struggle to subdue him was the 32-year-old son of an appellate court judge and the owner of a large cache of weapons, police said Tuesday.
Amid conflicting reports on how gunman David Fukuto died, autopsies were performed on him and the two dead police officers. However, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office ordered that results be kept confidential for 45 days, saying that revealing anything now might be detrimental to the police investigation.
The district attorney’s special investigations division began a supplemental probe into how Fukuto--the son of state District Court of Appeal Justice Morio Fukuto--was killed. The unit routinely looks into the possibility of criminal misconduct by officers whenever police are involved in the death of or injury to a suspect.
Meanwhile, speculation that Fukuto also may have been a suspect in the slaying of a Manhattan Beach police officer two months ago was weakened after Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigators determined that none of the weapons recovered from Fukoto’s car and home were used in that attack.
Justice Fukuto, who has had a distinguished legal career, issued a statement Tuesday condemning Monday’s attack.
“David committed a terrible and unforgivable crime in taking the lives of two fine police officers without reason,” the justice said. “We cannot explain his acts. We can only extend our deepest condolences to the officers’ families and to the members of the Palos Verdes Estates Police Department. Our prayers are with them.”
Witnesses say Sgt. Vernon Thomas Vanderpool, 57, and Capt. Michael Tracy, 50, were slain when David Fukuto burst into a motivational seminar at the Holiday Inn in Torrance on Monday, wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with two pistols.
“My first thought was that it was a joke, a bad joke,” said Palos Verdes Estates Police Chief Gary Johansen, who recalled similar scenarios during stunts pulled in police training classes. “I was angry because I was concerned somebody could get hurt. . . .
“I was just about to stand up and grab the guy when he ran down to the end of the table,” the chief said. “Vanderpool said, ‘I’m not going to take this crap anymore,’ and then he stood up. The guy fired two rounds at Vanderpool and hit him in the chest. He was wearing a white T-shirt. There was blood everywhere.”
The chief said that as Tracy rose to aid his fallen comrade, the gunman fired a shot that struck Tracy in the chest.
“At that instant, two or three officers made a dive for this guy,” Johansen said.
The chief said that during the violent struggle that followed, the suspect fired one of his pistols at least once.
“There was a lot of yelling going on, people yelling, ‘Drop the gun!’ ” the chief said. “It was a life-and-death struggle. . . . Once they got him subdued and handcuffed, we rolled him over, and he didn’t look real good at that point.”
There are reports that Fukuto died from a head injury during the struggle. There are several rumors as to how that injury was inflicted, but because the coroner’s office has been told to remain silent, the cause of Fukuto’s death remains unverified.
“Our information at this point is that he died of a possible head injury that was sustained as a result of the people in the room wrestling the guns away from him,” Sgt. Dave Smith of the Torrance Police Department said Tuesday.
“The paramedics told me they couldn’t find a gunshot wound on him, although bullet holes can sometimes be hard to find,” said Jack McCarter, a Torrance Fire Department battalion chief who was the incident commander at the hotel. McCarter cautioned, however, that he was not among the paramedics who administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation to Fukuto.
Mike Botula, a spokesman for Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, said the 45-day hold on the autopsy reports was ordered because “divulging the details about the cause of death at this point would be to the detriment of the criminal investigation.”
An honor student in high school and an active and respected member of his Episcopal church congregation, David Fukuto was a considerate man who took good care of the aging grandmother with whom he lived on Oxford Street in the Mid-City area, according to friends. They said he never had been in serious trouble and, according to investigators, had no known police record.
Nonetheless, Johansen, chief of the 23-member Palos Verdes Estates department, said he is convinced that Fukuto intended to pull an armed robbery when he went to the hotel in Torrance on Monday.
Because no one was in uniform, the suspect apparently did not realize that most of the men in the 12th-floor meeting room were police officers, the chief said.
Johansen said that before entering the room, Fukuto taped door locks on the 12th floor in the open position, apparently to aid in his escape. The chief said Fukuto was carrying 30 to 40 plastic handcuffs with him in a fanny pack.
“He apparently planned to tie everybody up and then rob them,” the chief said.
Johansen said 13 top city and police officials from Palos Verdes Estates were seated around a large, square table in the meeting room about 3:50 p.m. Monday when Fukuto “came barging in with guns in both hands. . . .
“He had a semiautomatic in his right hand and something with a silencer on it in his other hand,” the chief said. “He started screaming, ‘Put your hands behind your heads! Put your hands behind your heads.’
“He fired a round out of the gun with the silencer (and) the bullet hit the wall. It turned out it was a .22, and with the silencer, it just went ‘pop’. It sounded like a toy gun.”
In the seconds that followed, Vanderpool and Tracy were fatally wounded and police officers wrestled Fukuto to the ground, the chief said.
Fukuto was taken to Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance, where he was pronounced dead.
On Tuesday, Johansen reacted angrily to some of the questions about the gunman’s death.
“Two of my best officers died yesterday,” he said. “You think I care (about how Fukuto died)? I don’t care.”
But at the same time, Johansen expressed sympathy for the suspect’s father.
“We all have children,” the chief said. “We all know what it’s like when they run afoul of the law. We feel very much pain for him.”
Sgt. Smith said caches of weapons and ammunition were recovered from Fukuto’s car and from the house where he was living with his grandmother.
Smith said police “recovered a large number of weapons,” including a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun, an Uzi carbine with 120 rounds of ammunition and a Colt 223-caliber assault rifle believed to be fully automatic.
Both of the weapons used in the Valentine’s Day attack also belonged to Fukuto, Smith added, identifying the guns as a .22-caliber handgun with a silencer and a 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol.
Initially, authorities believed Fukuto might also have been involved in the fatal attack two months ago on another South Bay officer, Martin Ganz of the Manhattan Beach Police Department. That department, the Torrance Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department said they are still investigating a possible connection, but physical evidence linking the two proved elusive Tuesday.
“There are physical similarities to the composite of the suspect wanted in the Ganz shooting and the suspect in the Palos Verdes Estates police officers’ shooting,” said Deputy Fidel Gonzales, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department. Ganz, 29, was shot to death Dec. 27 during a seemingly routine traffic stop.
Assigned to a holiday drunk-driving abatement patrol, Ganz used his patrol car loudspeaker to pull over a Daihatsu Charade in front of a Manhattan Beach mall about 11 p.m., investigators said. They said that when he got out of the car, he was shot to death.
A witness to that shooting--the officer’s 13-year-old nephew who was on a department-sponsored ride-along--said the gunman was a heavyset Asian man in his 30s. The description roughly fits Fukuto, but he did not own a Daihatsu, police said.
Moreover, according to Sheriff’s Deputy Rich Erickson, all the guns seized from Fukuto’s home and car were checked by investigators Tuesday, “and none were used in Officer Ganz’s murder.”
Times staff writers Shawn Hubler, Ted Johnson and John L. Mitchell contributed to this story.
Here is how the fatal shooting of two Palos Verdes Estates police officers unfolded Monday:
1. David Fukuto, 32, enters 12-floor room at Torrance Holiday Inn and announces to police gathered at seminar, “This is a robbery.”
2. Sgt. Tom Vanderpool, 57, stands and heads toward Fukuto, getting about four to six feet from him before being shot.
3. Capt. Mike Tracy, 50, is shot after standing to help Vanderpool.
4. Other officers subdued the gunman, who was pronounced dead at a local hospital.