A Defense Department employee assigned to guard one of the Los Angeles area's most sensitive military installations was arrested on suspicion of murder in connection with a botched carjacking outside a Hollywood nightclub more than a decade ago, Los Angeles police said Thursday.
Pierre Alphonse Romain of Rialto, 39, described by LAPD detectives as a onetime member of the notorious Rollin' 60s street gang and a sergeant assigned to the Los Angeles Air Force Base police force, was arrested Wednesday after a DNA match.
Dets. Rick Jackson and Tim Marcia of the LAPD's cold-case homicide unit said Romain was the primary suspect in the 1987 slaying of Jade Maurice Clark, a 21-year-old Los Angeles man who was shot three times during a robbery and struggle over his car. Although Romain was arrested shortly after the killing, charges against him were dismissed because of insufficient evidence, Jackson said.
The break in the case came in May, when Romain applied to be an officer with the San Francisco Police Department. Officials there found the record of his arrest, and contacted the Los Angeles Police Department.
LAPD detectives then reviewed the original case against Romain, and ordered DNA tests on a bullet seized as evidence. Police used a warrant to obtain samples of Romain's saliva, which matched DNA from blood lifted from a slug fired from the victim's .25-caliber handgun that was recovered at the crime scene.
Romain is being held without bail at the Twin Towers jail in downtown Los Angeles. He was charged Thursday with one count of first-degree murder, with a special-circumstances charge of murder during the commission of a robbery.
Prosecutors could decide to seek the death penalty, but no decision has yet been made, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
Romain had applied to be an officer with 15 police departments, including the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Inglewood, Long Beach and San Bernardino police departments, but was rejected, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Weeks before Clark's slaying, Romain had taken a pre-employment physical to become a Los Angeles police officer. "He's been trying since 1987 to get into law enforcement, and for varying reasons he did not succeed until he was hired by the Defense Department as a police officer," Jackson said. "How that happened we don't know because we haven't delved into that aspect of the case. This was a sensitive investigation and we were trying to keep it close to the vest."
Police described Romain as a longtime active member of one of the city's most dangerous street gangs. Documents show that Romain has a police record. He was arrested on suspicion of robbery in 1986 and carrying a firearm in 1991, but prosecutors declined to file charges in both cases. In the mid-1990s, Romain went to a judge to declare him factually innocent of the 1987 murder charge. But the judge rejected that request.
Romain worked at one of the Pentagon's most prized research facilities, which oversees development of next-generation ballistic missiles, rockets and satellites. Overall, the base manages some $60 billion worth of military space hardware programs, including the Global Positioning System satellite navigation system, cutting edge space-based radar, infrared satellites used to track enemy missiles and some of the nation's most secretive space weapons.
Base spokeswoman Christina Greer said Romain was hired as a state-licensed security guard sometime during the 1990s. He was responsible for routine patrol, entry control and traffic enforcement but not for criminal investigations, which are handled by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations or the FBI, she said.
Greer refused to discuss Romain's security clearance. She said he did not have access to facilities housing sensitive information.
During his Defense Department employment, Romain was subjected to several background checks, including one in 1998.
"That background investigation disclosed the fact that Romain had been arrested for the Clark homicide in 1987, but that the charges against him had been dismissed for lack of evidence by Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan on Dec. 30, 1987," Greer said.
"The Air Force consequently had access to the court filings, but not to the LAPD case file regarding the Clark investigation."
According to Jackson, Clark and a friend were parked outside a Highland Boulevard club when two men approached from either side of the vehicle with their guns drawn.
Unwilling to part with the car, Clark pointed a gun at one of the assailants. While his friend struggled with one of the gunmen and escaped from the car, Clark fired at least one shot, striking the gunman in the right forearm.