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LAPD Panel to Review 3 Fatal March Shootings

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three men shot to death in March by Los Angeles police in the west San Fernando Valley had taken drugs and one had ingested both alcohol and cocaine in the hours before their deadly encounters, according to autopsy results released Friday.

The men, killed in separate incidents on March 9 and 11, were shot in their cars after they tried to escape from police in their cars. In one of the cases, officers shot a 23-year-old Reseda man 11 times after a nearly hourlong pursuit, according to autopsy findings.

The three shootings will be reviewed Monday by a Los Angeles Police Department panel that oversees police shootings. Capt. Robert Gale, who is in charge of the LAPD’s West Valley patrol division, said he believes the shootings were within department policy.

Police say the use of illegal drugs might explain the actions of the three men--William Betzner, Eduardo Hurtado and Jaime Jaurequi--who all fled after being ordered to stop by police officers.

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“Because their judgment was affected, they chose to risk their lives, the officers’ lives and the lives of citizens in the area,” said LAPD Cmdr. Tim McBride. “These people were acting irrationally. Judgment is one of the first faculties that’s affected and that’s certainly a factor here.”

But a lawyer for the families of Hurtado and Jaurequi said he believes the police overreacted.

“It’s obvious overkill,” said Luis Carrillo, the Monterey Park attorney who is reviewing the cases for possible legal action.

In the Jaurequi case, autopsy results showed that he had been shot 10 times in the shoulder, back, chest and arms, and grazed by another bullet on the chin. Police revealed Friday that officers fired 23 shots at Jaurequi, who allegedly tried to ram them with his car to escape from a Northridge cul-de-sac.

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Blood tests revealed that Jaurequi had cocaine in his system. Coroner’ officials said he had probably used the drug four to six hours before his death, leaving only traces in his body when he died.

Police say Jaurequi failed to stop March 9 when ordered by officers and then led them on a 59-minute chase involving patrol cars and police helicopters. Jaurequi drove into a cul-de-sac and then began reversing his car into a patrol car with two officers inside and a police sergeant standing nearby.

“Had the officers had maybe even 30 or 40 seconds, I think the sergeant could have designated a shooter,” Gale said, explaining why 23 shots were fired by several officers. “When you don’t have time, you operate on instinct and training. Every one of those officers . . . thought that a sergeant’s life was in deadly peril.”

The autopsy report also revealed that Jaurequi was taken out of his car after he was shot and handcuffed.

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Carrillo said witnesses described the police as treating Jaurequi “like a dog.” But police said Jaurequi was supposed to be handcuffed because officers were unsure whether he was dead or wounded.

“If there’s any doubt that the guy could get up and run, they handcuff him,” Gale said.

In the Hurtado case, autopsy results showed that the 29-year-old died from a single gunshot to his head. Blood tests revealed that he had a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit of 0.08%. Cocaine was also found in his system.

Police say two bike patrol officers in Canoga Park tried to question him and his passengers on the evening of March 11. According to police, a passenger in the front seat reached for his waistband as one of the officers leaned into the car. Hurtado then drove off with the officer holding onto the vehicle.

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The officer shot Hurtado as he was driving, police said.

In the Betzner case, autopsy results showed that the 43-year-old died from a gunshot wound to his head. He had also suffered facial trauma, possibly from a car accident after the shooting.

Blood tests showed that Betzner--who was facing a so-called third-strike offense--had a substantial amount of methamphetamine in his body, said toxicologist Dan Anderson of the coroner’s office. The drug was probably still active in his system at the time of his death.

Betzner was stopped by officers who saw him rummaging through a construction site on March 9. As he was being questioned, he got into his car and began driving as an officer reached into the car. That officer, who is still off duty with back injuries, was wedged in the car and shot Betzner to stop him.

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Betzner’s car then crashed into a taco stand on Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana.


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