Los Angeles County supervisors reacted sharply Tuesday to an internal report by the Sheriff's Department on the late-summer shootout in the Santa Clarita Valley, with one board member blaming federal agents for the death of a sheriff's deputy.
Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who represents the Stevenson Ranch area where Deputy Hagop "Jake" Kuredjian was killed in the Aug. 31 shooting, chastised agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for their tactics in the seemingly routine weapons search. He also criticized the ATF for failing to conclude its own internal investigation and share it with the department.
"As a result of their [ATF agents] actions, we lost a very fine deputy," said Antonovich, who requested the report.
The Board of Supervisors received a briefing Tuesday behind closed doors by top sheriff's officials, who recently completed an internal investigation of the gun battle. The Sheriff's Department also released transcripts of two conversations that revealed James Allen Beck's violent intentions.
Supervisors criticized the ATF for underestimating the potential violence that Beck, a 35-year-old felon with a history of stockpiling weapons and impersonating law enforcement officers, could initiate.
"I would like to see those at the ATF take responsibility for their actions and those responsible make changes and resign," Antonovich said. He said the ATF has a history of delaying internal reviews and changes.
In a written statement, ATF Special Agent in Charge Donald Kincaid said the bureau is still investigating the four-hour gun battle and that a shooting review board would be convened to determine the factors that contributed to the violence.
"There is considerable soul-searching by us about how Deputy Kuredjian's murder could have been prevented," Kincaid said. "We plan our actions and execute our operations taking into account the worst-case scenario, but predicting the potential reaction of a suspect is never a perfect science. Clearly, we all wish we had more accurately foreseen how Beck would respond."
Sheriff Lee Baca said he "needs answers" from the ATF to several remaining questions, including whether the bureau conducted conducted a thorough "threat assessment" and whether it met all of its own standards for planning and implementing this type of operation.
Baca said he will immediately begin new procedures for deputies dealing with outside law enforcement agencies. Meetings will be conducted with other agencies to determine the potential risks involved. Ultimately, Baca said he might consider taking over any high-risk operations.
"We have the ultimate accountability to the people of this county," Baca said. "It's not often in Los Angeles County that a joint operation results in the tragic death of a law enforcement officer."
County officials on Tuesday released chilling transcripts of conversations between Beck and a sheriff's deputy and then with a federal agent.
"I'm not going to prison for life," Beck allegedly told the deputy. "I am sorry I had to take out one of your guys. . . . It's your fault. You guys did this. . . . I got a lot of ammo in here . . . get the . . . helicopter out of here. . . . I will show you what I will do to that [sheriff's] helicopter." Large-caliber rounds were then fired at the helicopter, sheriff's officials said.
"I'm a three-striker," Beck allegedly told the agent. "I am not going down. This is going to be a mini-Waco. Bring on the sheriff's SWAT team."
Sheriff's officials privately are critical of the ATF for its actions that day, but publicly they have been loath to denounce a fellow law enforcement agency.
Some county supervisors, however, blamed the ATF for putting sheriff's deputies and neighbors in harm's way.
"We did our job, but I don't think the ATF did enough to let us know what we were walking into," Supervisor Don Knabe said after the briefing. "It's just sad to lose a guy walking into an ambush like that."
The violence erupted as federal agents tried to serve a search warrant at Beck's home. He refused to cooperate and the lengthy gun battle ensued. Kuredjian was one of the first to arrive and was shot by Beck.
The Sheriff's Department took control of the shooting after the deputy was shot. SWAT teams helped rescue ATF agents trapped around Beck's house. The SWAT officers fired hot tear gas canisters into the house, which caused the fire that destroyed the house. Beck was found dead in the charred ruins.
The sheriff's investigation also determined that 18 deputies and seven federal agents fired at least 555 rounds of ammunition. Beck, the department said, fired "hundreds if not thousands" of rounds.
Neighbors were left largely in their homes throughout most of the ordeal. Beck's next-door neighbors, cowering in a bathroom with their 2-day-old daughter, estimated that authorities fired 50 rounds into their house.
Beck had told neighbors he was a deputy U.S. marshal and that he was a gun collector. But they were suspicious of the single man, who never seemed to go to work, and alerted authorities.
ATF officials previously said that they conducted a similar weapons search a year ago and that Beck had cooperated. No weapons were found and Beck was not arrested. Those officials said they did not believe Beck would refuse agents' attempts to search his home in August.