In a rare legal move, the city of Los Angeles has filed a claim against the estate of one of two gunmen fatally shot in the Feb. 28 North Hollywood bank robbery, seeking to recoup property losses and the medical costs incurred by injured officers.
The city’s claim was filed last week in response to a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city being brought on behalf of the children of one of the slain gunmen. In that suit, lawyer Steven Yagman claims Emil Matasareanu’s civil rights were violated by Los Angeles police officers who prevented Matasareanu from receiving emergency medical care after he was shot.
Matasareanu died of loss of blood from a leg wound.
Matasareanu and his accomplice, Larry Eugene Phillips Jr., who also died in the botched robbery attempt, held officers at bay with hundreds of shots from high-powered assault weapons as the pair left the Bank of America branch. The men injured 11 police officers and six passers-by during the neighborhood siege, which was captured live by TV news crews.
Assistant City Atty. Don W. Vincent said the city should be entitled to share in any proceeds from the Yagman lawsuit, in addition to any money remaining in Matasareanu’s estate. He said the money would be used to pay for damage to public and private property, as well as for the officers’ medical costs.
The city’s claim is an unusual, he said, because criminal suspects typically do not cause widespread damage and are usually paupers. The claim was filed in this case because of the Yagman lawsuit, said Vincent, the city’s supervising attorney for police litigation.
“This is the only one I know of in a police-related case,” Vincent said. “The aim is to make the city whole for all the damages caused that day.”
According to the claim: “By committing such actions, Matasareanu and Phillips committed battery on the Los Angeles Police Department officers, all employees of the City . . . and maliciously, wantonly, recklessly and negligently damaged and destroyed property belonging to the City of Los Angeles and private citizens.”
Yagman roundly rejected the claim.
“It’s in the category of dumb, dumber and dumbest,” Yagman said.
But Los Angeles Councilman Joel Wachs praised city lawyers for aggressively seeking compensation.
“Maybe it will be a lesson to some of these lawyers who are just so out to get money from the city,” Wachs said. “I just wish we’d do it more often, frankly.”
Even if Yagman does not win any money for Matasareanu’s two young sons, Vincent said, the bank robbers are believed to have committed robberies that netted them about $1.5 million, money that could still surface. So far, most of the cash has not been recovered.
Matasareanu and Phillips are believed to have killed an armored car guard in an attack outside a Bank of America in the San Fernando Valley two years ago, robbed two branches last year, attempted a takeover of an armored car last year, and ambushed an armored car guard outside a Denver bank in 1993.
“We don’t know how they laundered that money,” Vincent said. “Maybe we’ll get some of that.”
Vincent said the claim has no specific dollar amount because he is unsure of the total costs so far.
In March, the city had received a dozen claims for damage caused by the shooting, ranging from $82 to fix a window cracked by a bullet to $9,200 to replace a car shot up in the gunfight.
Officers, most of whom have returned to work, have filed claims for medical care and workers’ compensation, Vincent said.