This is another sad tale from an often cruel city where, according to FBI statistics, residents are about twice as likely as the national average to become victims of violent crime.
This time, though, let's not look at the cost of the ongoing mayhem in terms of human suffering, but rather in dollars. This time, pull out your calculator and pity the taxpayers--many of whom, because they live in areas less touched by it, still seem to figure that street violence is someone else's problem.
This is the story of one case, documented from court records and with interviews and reports from various agencies.
It began April 29, 1991, exactly one year before the city exploded into riot.
Cindy Rodriguez, then 12, had stayed home that day to interpret for her Spanish-speaking mother, who was taking one of Cindy's eight siblings to the dentist.
About 3:30 p.m., Cindy and her sister, Nancy, heard the mail carrier arrive in the parking lot of their building on Imperial Avenue in South-Central Los Angeles. Cindy expected a letter from a friend, so she and Nancy, then 15, ran out of their small apartment and watched as the carrier stuffed mail into the cluster of aluminum boxes.
At that moment, kitty-corner from the building, a tricked-out red Nissan Pathfinder entered the parking lot of Church's Fried Chicken. As with most such events, accounts of what happened next depend on who is telling the story, and from what perspective.
Roscoe Frederick, a crack dealer and alleged associate of a Blood gang set, says he and a friend pulled up to the drive-through window. Frederick says he was waiting for his fries with his window down, bumping "Nobody Beat the Biz" by rapper Biz Markie, when he noticed a guy by the restaurant door who seemed to be admiring his Pathfinder.
Frederick says he was just about to ask, "You like this?" when the restaurant door swung open and "a dude came out of the chicken place and fired three shots at me, boom-boom-boom. "
A teen-ager who was standing outside the restaurant--we will call him Jim Smith--had a different perspective. He says Frederick pulled into the lot, shouted an insult at someone near the restaurant and started shooting.
Either way, one bullet lodged in Smith's shoulder and another tore through the hip of the 15-year-old beside him, dropping him to the cement.
Nancy and Cindy had already heard enough gunfire in their lives to guess the caliber of the shots that snapped and popped across the street. Nancy saw smoke rising from the gun of a youth she knew as "Little Man," a member of a local Crip gang set. She would later say she saw him dart into the street and run toward her.
Cindy had seen gang skirmishes before. "I'm going home," she said, as the Pathfinder pulled from the lot and stopped in the middle of Imperial.
"Let's run for it, Nancy!" Cindy shouted. Instead, Cindy crumpled.
"Get up!" Nancy ordered.
"Nancy, I can't get up."
"Stop goofing off, get up," Nancy replied, leaning down, frightened.
"It felt like my body was burning," Cindy says now. A .38-caliber, hollow-point bullet had entered her left side, near the stomach, sliced through her spinal cord at the third lumbar vertebra, and fragmented. The largest piece lodged in her clothing.
"It felt like there was a water hose in me with all the blood coming out," she recalls.
Public coffers began hemorrhaging money as well, as the people connected by those bullets were caught in the numbingly complex tangle of lifelines and restraints thrown out by already overburdened institutions.
There is no official tracking of the total volume of dollars it costs society after such an event. Many agencies involved are on duty anyway, so to calculate such spending is, in a sense, academic, and some of the figures that follow are speculative.
But imagine just this once that each time a dollar was paid, a societal overseer punched a button on a giant cash register, sounding a loud ca-ching.
Within minutes of the shootout, the city's emergency response system went to work. Two Los Angeles Police Department patrol units arrived at 3:55 p.m. and four officers began preliminary crime scene investigation No. DR 91-1813758.
A "Lifeforce" engine from city Fire Station 64 and rescue ambulances from Stations 33 and 65 pulled into the intersection, followed by a battalion chief and paramedics supervisor--11 fire personnel.
At 4 p.m., an LAPD sergeant arrived, followed by three officers who began holding back the crowd.
Even as the intersection swarmed with police, members of a third gang arrived to check out the action. When they spotted two young men from yet another gang set there gawking, they attacked with fists and tire irons.
"They're coming into our territory. That don't go!" one gangbanger shouted to a TV news crew.
Amid the chaos, an LAPD patrol unit took Smith to the hospital, while ambulances hauled off Cindy and the 15-year-old.
The ambulances prorate their charges at about $6.85 a minute, which, including the run to Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center, totaled $911.
The fire personnel's hours came to about $4,324, according to department records.
Meanwhile, Detective Raymond Monroy and his partner, Michael Calhoun, joined 17 officers now on the scene (six others had arrived, assisted briefly, and left). Monroy took charge of the investigation, interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence. An LAPD photographer took pictures.
Exclusive of Monroy and Calhoun's time, the expense to taxpayers for the police response, based on conservative estimates of per hour salaries cross-referenced with the crime scene log, comes to about $635. A forensic specialist cost another $42.
LAPD dispatched a helicopter to try to spot the fleeing Pathfinder. Its two hours of use, including wages for the pilot and observer, cost $405.
Back on the ground, inside a web of yellow crime-scene tape, Monroy and Calhoun worked 24 hours straight on the investigation. According to figures supplied by public information Officer Arthur Holmes, the detectives' cost, exclusive of overtime, was about $1,307.
The total cost of that initial response? $7,624.
Cindy had lost a lot of blood and slipped into shock as she was wheeled into the trauma center. A doctor removed her left kidney and parts of the hollow-point bullet. But fragments remained lodged in her spine.
The next day, Cindy awoke with tubes running down her mouth and nose and poking from her chest, and a colostomy bag at her side. She had no idea where she was.
A doctor entered the room trailing medical students. "She's a paraplegic," he announced. "She got shot. She's never going to walk again."
Those remarks, Cindy recalls, were her first indication of what had happened.
"I got shot?" she cried.
"You didn't know?" the doctor asked.
Cindy spent six days in the intensive care unit, for which King billed the state Department of Health Services' Medi-Cal $2,632 a day. (The hospital's Medi-Cal contract allows for only a $920-a-day reimbursement, but the full costs are ultimately absorbed by the county facility and society.) From ICU, Cindy was wheeled into the pediatric unit, where she spent nine days at a per diem charge of $1,234.
The two other victims also underwent surgery at King. Smith was discharged the next day; the other youth May 1. If both lacked private insurance, the minimum estimated cost to taxpayers in Medi-Cal funds for them was $7,896.
The total for this first stage of the victims' hospital treatment: $34,794.
Soon after the shooting, a "citizen informant" called LAPD's South Bureau CRASH unit saying that the shooter was a hustler named "Roscoe."
A detective checked his files and found Roscoe Frederick.
Monroy went to King with a "six pack" photo lineup. Smith's arms were incapacitated, but he indicated that the driver--the shooter, he said--was the man in picture No. 5, Roscoe Frederick.
Hours before that interview, just shortly after the shooting, an employee of a Gardena body shop had watched Frederick wheel his Pathfinder into the garage. According to the man's later testimony, Frederick asked him to patch bullet holes in the door and side, fix a shattered rear window, and paint the red vehicle blue.
A few minutes after Frederick's arrival, the employee said, Brian Keith Cage, Frederick's stepbrother, arrived to give him a ride. The man said he watched Cage open the truck's door, pick up a handgun and slip it into his waistband.
That night, the employee saw a TV report about the shooting. His conscience and his good sense began a heated debate, he later told prosecutors.
When he had cooperated with police after another incident, the man said, gang members had kidnaped his brother. But the thought of a 12-year-old lying in a hospital got the better of him. He called Gardena police and told them about the bullet-riddled Pathfinder.
Tuesday, April 30, was Frederick's 20th birthday. At 3 p.m., an LAPD stake-out team--seven officers and a lieutenant, Monroy recalls--set up inside the body shop and across the street. They left that evening when the shop closed, and returned the next morning.
Finally, on May 2, Frederick arrived at 5 p.m. But the shop employees didn't recognize him, and he eluded the stakeout. At 7:30, two patrol officers spotted Cage and arrested him. On May 7, on his attorney's advice, Frederick surrendered to Monroy. With another warrant, police impounded and searched his Pathfinder. A police chemist, according to reports, found a bloodstain, a bullet, a casing and fingerprints.
By now, the shooting's costs had spread like fragments of the hollow-tip bullet through the organizations and enterprises that have blossomed as a result of Southern California's relentless bloodshed.
The chemist's time cost about $42. Towing the truck cost $68. The officers' and lieutenant's time for the stakeout--conservatively assuming that each was at the lowest pay scale--came to about $4,771.
Monroy continued working the case, and estimates his and Calhoun's additional investigation costs at $1,118 through early May.
Cost of the additional investigation and arrests: $5,999.
On May 13, Cindy was transferred to Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center in Downey. The spinal injury had left her paralyzed, although she has some feeling in one leg. For 3 1/2 months, the Rancho staff worked on Cindy's rehabilitation, providing physical therapy, counseling and instruction, while continuing her junior high school education.
At a flat daily rate of $1,193, Rancho billed Medi-Cal $120,494 for Cindy's stay.
At the end of July, 1991, Cindy returned home. By October, she had incurred another $4,209 in pharmaceutical expenses--ranging from stomahesive paste to catheters and colostomy bags--which Medi-Cal paid.
Between her release and the end of September, Rancho billed an additional $725 for physical and vocational therapy and $1,175 in other medical services, according to a computer-generated bill.
Total cost of her additional treatment to this point: $126,603.
In early May, 1991, detectives Monroy and Calhoun went to the seventh-floor offices of the district attorney's hard-core gang unit at the Compton courthouse. Linda Bushling, one of 12 attorneys there, added the case to the 16 or so murders and attempted murders she already juggled, and filed charges against Frederick: three counts of premeditated attempted murder.
County probation officers investigated Frederick and wrote a report, at the standard cost of $420.
Frederick was arraigned on May 13, and--over Bushling's objections--bail was set at $250,000. He remained in custody until family and friends raised the bond.
The case, meanwhile, began to move through the criminal justice system, racking up expenses to taxpayers virtually every day. Monroy, for example, estimates that he put in 30 to 50 hours keeping tabs on witnesses and tracking down details. Figuring the time at 40 hours, that's $1,118.
(Taxpayers were spared one expense: Both Frederick and Cage hired private attorneys.)
On June 24, 1991, Case No. TA012928 arrived for preliminary hearing before Judge Steven Suzukawa, in Division VI of Los Angeles County Municipal Court. Four witnesses--Nancy, Smith, Monroy and the body-shop employee--were called.
Prosecutor Bushling presented five exhibits, including photos of the Pathfinder and diagrams of the shooting scene. Testimony lasted one day and generated a 147-page transcript. According to an estimate by a budget analyst with the State Judicial Council, a day of court time in a felony preliminary hearing, including the judge's salary, ancillary personnel and paperwork, costs taxpayers $3,950. Monroy's time came to another $223.
The case file moved to Superior Court and began racking up notations that reflect its glacial progress: On July 8, 1991, the defendants pleaded not guilty. On Aug. 5, the case was continued. On Sept. 12, the court denied a motion to dismiss brought by the defense. On Sept. 23, Oct. 18, Oct. 29, Nov. 19, Nov. 26 and Dec. 3, the court granted defense motions to continue the case.
And on Dec. 12, the court transferred the proceedings to Judge Thomas R. Simpson.
Throughout the first half of 1992, the case continued to dribble along on a string of continuances, as transcripts were prepared and the prosecutor or defense attorney reported scheduling conflicts. Bushling appeared in court on Jan. 9, 14, 15, Feb. 3, 14, 27, 28, March 6, April 8, May 11, June 11, 17, and July 1, 21 and 23.
Conservatively figuring that each motion took 30 minutes of court time, that adds up to a prorated cost to the court of $5,916.
Total cost of the legal preliminaries: $11,627.
As the case progressed, local gang members, including friends of "Little Man," were not bashful about expressing their feelings to Cindy and her family, she says. Sometimes they would walk by and laugh at her as she sat in front of the family apartment in her wheelchair. They called the house and harassed her and Nancy.
During those months, body-shop workers also received threats from gang members, says Bushling: "They were terrified."
(In an unrelated incident some months after the shooting, Monroy says, a rival drug dealer shot and killed "Little Man"--who was not charged in Cindy's shooting.)
Like so many people in high-crime areas, the Rodriguezes found the violence hurting them in other, unexpected ways. When Cindy lay in the hospital, her mother, Maria, a seamstress at the time, took off work for two weeks to be near her. Her sisters missed school. Her father, Jose, had recently lost his job as a silk-screen printer, and he took the shooting hard, staying by Cindy's bedside the whole time she was in ICU.
But he left the family soon after, Cindy says, her eyes tearing up.
Two weeks after Cindy was shot, a brother-in-law was killed in a gang-related incident, bringing more grief to her overwhelmed family. Families often disintegrate after violence, as the enormous emotional and economic stresses collide, says Paul Juarez, a researcher at King and past chairman of the Violence Prevention Coalition of Los Angeles.
Caring for an injured child pushes already difficult circumstances to the breaking point, he says. And when a poor family loses its grip on financial security, society's costs can surge.
In this case, no one in the Rodriguez family took advantage of financial assistance offered by the district attorney's victim assistance program, so the sole costs to taxpayers, prorated by the time worker Mary Sutton put in on the case, would be about $1,200.
On Aug. 10, 1992, Frederick's case went to trial. Simpson seated 12 jurors and two alternates. A sheriff's deputy, deputy clerk and court reporter were present.
Even the circle of people drawn together to contend with the shooting were not immune to the larger epidemic it reflected. On the second day of the trial, the judge excused a juror whose brother had just been shot and killed.
Bushling's first witnesses were Nancy and Cindy. She also called Detective Calhoun. Using material prepared by the district attorney's staff, she documented the state's case with 22 exhibits, including aerial photographs and an illustration of a bullet prepared by a forensic specialist. The estimated cost, excluding materials, was $213.
The trial lasted five days.
Smith, who had been shot in the shoulder, abruptly lost all memory of events, testifying to virtually every question: "I don't know."
But Bushling, who had seen plenty of witnesses "go sideways," educated the jury on the realities of gang intimidation and impeached Smith with his own testimony from the preliminary hearing.
At 2:01 p.m. on Aug. 18, the jury announced it had reached a verdict. They found Frederick guilty of premeditated attempted murder on a "John Doe," guilty on two counts of assault with a firearm on Cindy, and guilty on one count of assault with a firearm on Nancy. He was also found to have used a firearm, which added a mandatory four years to his term.
Forget about calculating the amount of money the jurors' employers paid to subsidize the time they were impaneled. Bushling estimates that she spent 87 hours preparing the case--not counting time she worked at home--for a total expense of $5,428.
The detectives' time off the streets for the trial prorates to an estimated $2,178.
The judge's salary and other court expenses total $19,750.
The cost of the trial to taxpayers: $27,889.
On Sept. 14, Judge Simpson sentenced Frederick to life in prison with possibility of parole, tacking on four more years. He was moved to the state prison at Corcoran.
Frederick had already spent 56 days in county jail--at a daily rate to taxpayers of $44.35--for a total of about $2,483.
Experts predict that unless his conviction is overturned or shortened on appeal, he will not receive a parole hearing for 15 years. The state Department of Corrections estimates the annual cost to taxpayers of incarcerating an inmate, exclusive of prison building costs, at $20,751 a year.
If Frederick is released after 15 years, his incarceration will have cost about $311,265, which doesn't take into account inflation or costs of his eventual parole.
"All I did was go get some chicken, then all this jumped up," Frederick said from prison. "When they took me to court, for my trial, my wife was six months pregnant. (Since then) she had my little daughter. . . . If I have to do all this time, she'll be out of high school by the time I come home."
Prosecutor Bushling had decided soon after Cage's arrest that it would cost taxpayers less to put him away for a probation violation from a cocaine-related conviction than to prosecute him as an accessory after the fact to the shooting.
A judge complied with that request, and he was sent to Wasco State Prison for a three-year sentence. Cage says he served 18 months, which translates to a cost to taxpayers of $31,126.
Frederick appealed his conviction; on Sept. 25, 1992, that process began. A state attorney general's spokeswoman said that figuring the costs of the appeals process is "just about impossible." But estimates are possible.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal oversaw 2,552 cases for fiscal year 1991-92. Support staff puts in an average of 22 hours per case (at about $90 an hour) to keep the complex filing process moving, according to an appeals court budget analyst. Average cost per case: $1,980. The cost per case for the judge's time averages about $1,120.
To file the "respondent's brief" on this particular appeal, Deputy Atty. Gen. Arthur H. Auerbach says that he put in 55 hours, at $85 an hour, for another $4,675.
In December, 1993, the court upheld Frederick's conviction and sentence, and the state Supreme Court denied his attorney's petition to hear the case.
Not factoring in the costs of inflation or pushing the appeal to the federal level, the taxpayer cost for incarceration and appeals is $352,649.
Cindy, meanwhile, moved with her family to a house a few miles from the shooting site. As documented by a 45-page Medi-Cal computer printout, her incidental medical costs, administered at Rancho, King, County-USC Medical Center and other facilities over the last three years have come in fits and starts. The institutions billed Medi-Cal $8,916 for additional medical care and therapy. On top of that, Medi-Cal paid for $5,530 in medical equipment.
Jeff Cressy, community liaison for Rancho's spinal cord injury project, cites estimates that someone with Cindy's level of injury spends an average of $1,596 annually on equipment and maintenance alone, in 1988 dollars--money that Medi-Cal will likely provide. Actuarial tables show that a person with her injuries has an expected life span of 71 years, says Monroe Berkowitz, a Rutgers professor and author of the book "Economic Consequences of Traumatic Spinal Injury." So Cindy's additional lifetime equipment-related bills will probably hit $90,972.
A partially paralyzed person pays, on average, $138 more per year in prescription drugs, for another lifetime total of $7,728, paid by Medi-Cal.
Cindy now participates in an anti-gang volunteer project with Los Angeles Teens on Target, a group coordinated by Dr. Luis Montes, one of her doctors at Rancho. Another community organization flew her to Washington, D.C., last year, where she attended President Clinton's inauguration as one of the hundreds of young "faces of hope."
Cindy returned, however, to a future considerably different than the one she envisioned as a bright-eyed 12-year-old with fashion model dreams.
Now 15, Cindy attends Locke High School. The Los Angeles Unified School District provides the bubbly adolescent with special education classes and counseling at an estimated added expense of $5,800 a year. If she graduates, as she plans to do, the additional cost to taxpayers for her education will come to $29,000.
Cindy still hopes to work as a model. But, on the advice of counselors, she is also making backup plans. Her confident demeanor suggests that she will accomplish whatever she puts her mind to. But the fact is, someone with a disability such as hers has a harder time doing everything from getting dressed in the morning to feeding herself at night.
If she does work, actuarial tables show that a partially paralyzed woman will lose an average of $6,570 in wages a year in her lifetime. The Social Security Administration contributes $446 a month in Supplemental Security Income with an additional state benefit of $63.40. This payment is subject to potential reductions based on earned income and will vanish if she becomes able to walk. If not, taxpayers will be tapped for at least $348,156.
Assuming neither a worst- nor best-case scenario, the total for such lifetime costs will likely come to about $490,302.
Six weeks ago, Cindy re-entered Rancho so surgeons could correct a spinal problem and, as she says, "mess with my kidney." An infection developed and she remained hospitalized for 28 days. The bill came to $33,404.
In 1991, the year Cindy was shot, 677 children or teen-agers were wounded or killed in 583 separate drive-by shootings in the city, according to a USC study. And the LAPD reported 43,783 aggravated assaults.
Most injuries were less serious than Cindy's. Some were more so: 953 Angelenos were murdered, 771 of them in gang-related crimes.
One shooting shattered Cindy Rodriquez's life.
It will cost taxpayers about $1,091,768.