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Fired as a Cop, Suspect Ran Up Long Rap Sheet

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

James Allen Beck had a love of guns, a desire to be a cop and an inability to get along with others.

That potent combination would land him in trouble again and again with the law. On Friday it got him killed.

Beck, a former Arcadia policeman, opened fire on a team of law enforcement agents, killing one of them, as they approached his house to search it for illegal firearms.

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He had attracted the attention of federal authorities because he had told neighbors that he was a deputy U.S. marshal and that he had a stockpile of weapons in his house.

Beck, 35, explained his daytime presence around the Stevenson Ranch development by telling neighbors he worked in law enforcement at night.

But some of them didn’t buy it. They said they resented his occasionally surly demeanor, the way he’d tell them to get off his property and threaten to use his badge against them. Some began videotaping his movements and checked him out with federal authorities.

The authorities weren’t surprised. They say they knew he had impersonated a police officer before. They also knew he had a long criminal record, including several weapons violations.

In the 1980s, Beck applied at several local police departments before being accepted by the Arcadia force in 1987.

He loved going on night patrol through the relatively sleepy streets of the San Gabriel Valley city, colleagues said.

But Beck seemed to clash repeatedly with other officers, and he was dismissed in August 1988, before he could finish his 18-month probationary period.

Along the way, in what fellow officers decided was an attempt to impress them, he told the department he had finished 37th in the 1988 Los Angeles Marathon, ultimately receiving an award from Arcadia’s mayor and police chief. After they fired him, officials discovered that he had not even entered the race.

By 1990, Beck had begun racking up a string of arrests and convictions. He was convicted at least three times and ordered to serve a total of 12 years in prison, said Supervising Deputy U.S. Marshal William Woolsey, a spokesman for the federal marshals office. It is unclear how many years he served.

According to law enforcement and court records, Beck’s first conviction occurred in 1990, for receiving stolen property--a Remington shotgun and a .25-caliber Beretta handgun. He was also convicted of grand theft, firearms violations and fraudulent use of someone else’s credit card, on which he had charged more than $1,300. He was sentenced to two years in state prison.

In the years that followed, Beck was arrested numerous times: on suspicion of possession of firearms, receiving stolen property, carrying firearms in public, impersonating a police officer and being a felon in possession of an assault weapon. He was again sentenced to prison, this time for four years, records show.

In late 1992, Beck was back in court, convicted of first-degree residential burglary with the intent to commit larceny. Court documents say he broke into a trailer. That time, he was sentenced to six years in state prison.

It is not known what became of him then or how he could afford to move into Stevenson Ranch last fall. Neighbors said he lived with a girlfriend who worked at a restaurant.

“He was home a lot, so he would talk to all the women in the neighborhood,” said Jill Stones. Another neighbor, Lisa Willes, said he tended a beautiful garden and walked his German shepherd daily.

Stones said Beck had a Harley-Davidson that he kept covered. About three weeks ago, as he worked on it, neighbors used binoculars to watch. When he lifted the cover, they wrote the license plate number down and sent it to authorities. It was that tip that led to Friday’s confrontation.


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