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L.A. Officers Kill Suspect as Viewers Watch on TV

Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles police shot and killed a robbery suspect on live TV at the end of a 90-minute car chase early Monday, firing into a rear windshield as the driver slowly backed his car toward officers in front of Santa Monica High School.

Nicholas Hans Killinger, 23, of Malibu died an hour after three Los Angeles police officers, “fearing for their lives,” fired into the back window of his Ford Tempo, said Lt. Art Miller.

“The suspect could have ended this situation at any time,” said Miller. “But instead he chose to reverse his car into the officers.” The officers, not yet identified, are from the Hollywood and Rampart divisions.

Killinger’s family, including some who saw the 5:54 a.m. shooting on TV as it happened, questioned the deadly police response. Five local TV stations aired the chase and shooting.

“Why did they have to shoot him so many times?” asked Emma Jean Killinger, the man’s aunt. Killinger lived with her family in Malibu for the last three or four months, she said.

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“I was shocked,” she said, “because he was supposed to come home last night.”

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton pledged that his investigators will review the shooting “with a fine-tooth comb” to determine whether it conformed to department guidelines. Police can use deadly force to protect themselves or others “from immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm.”

Bratton has been seeking to restrict the LAPD’s deadly force guidelines that now allow officers to shoot at vehicles that pose a threat. Other departments have banned the practice, citing the danger to innocent bystanders.

LAPD policy states that shooting “at or from a moving vehicle is generally prohibited,” except as a last resort.

“We are going to modify the existing policy,” Bratton said. Any such change of policy requires Police Commission approval.

The Los Angeles district attorney’s office and the Santa Monica Police Department are investigating the incident, which began at an Agoura Hills gas station about 4:30 a.m.

Killinger, armed with a knife, is suspected of tying up the gas station attendant and stealing $180 from the register, authorities said. Killinger was convicted in 2003 for assault with a deadly weapon, court records show.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were alerted, and they spotted Killinger driving east on the Ventura Freeway through Sherman Oaks.

The chase was taken over by the California Highway Patrol. When Killinger left the freeway in Hollywood, LAPD officers took over the pursuit.

For more than an hour, Killinger sped through side streets and drove on the wrong side of the road.

“Along the way he threw out the money,” Miller said. At one point, the pursuit raced through the pedestrian portion of Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade.

Killinger was driving east on Pico Boulevard, then tried to make a U-turn on 6th Street, according to the videotaped broadcast. He could not complete the U-turn and began rolling backward, toward two LAPD patrol cars that had stopped behind him.

Three officers stood alongside their patrol cars and fired about 11 rounds into the rear window of Killinger’s car as it began moving in reverse.

Killinger’s car bumped the front of one patrol car and the driver’s side door flung open. Bullets could be seen hitting the car near the opening. Killinger fell face down out of the driver’s side door.

Lt. Miller said the officers told investigators they were in fear for their lives and they believed the suspect was a danger to the public.

Monday’s shooting revisited a long-standing debate on the live broadcast of police pursuits. In April 1998, local TV stations drew criticism for broadcasting a man as he shot himself on a Century Freeway overpass.

KTLA Channel 5 news director Jeff Wald said the station now has a policy of switching to a wide angle shot if the helicopter pilots anticipate a pursuit is about to end. The station broadcast Monday’s shooting because “I’m sure they didn’t know ... what was going on at the time.”

KABC-TV’s news helicopter was hovering above the passenger side of the suspect’s vehicle and puffs of smoke could be seen as officers fired their weapons. When the suspect was hit, their camera began zooming out.

“The minute the suspect started to put himself in an aggressive position, our chopper pilot told his cameraman to pull out,” said KABC news director Cheryl Fair. “We’re very conscious of the potential and try as best we can to handle this situation in a sensitive fashion. But it is live television.”

KNBC-TV news director Bob Long said his station will not replay the shooting again and will only display a still picture. “There’s no reason to show it,” Long said.

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To see video with this story go to latimes.com/chase.


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