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Police Kill Gunman in Rave Party Shootout

Times Staff Writers

In the latest in a string of violent outbreaks at illegal rave-style parties, a teenager opened fire on a crowd of partygoers late Saturday night, wounding three revelers and a police officer before the officer shot him to death, Los Angeles Police Department officials said Sunday.

Jeremy Andre Cervantes, 19, of Los Angeles shot and injured the three people before he was confronted by the policeman, Mario Cardona, 30, one of about a dozen officers trying to shut down the party, police said.

Cardona, a seven-year LAPD veteran, was in stable condition Sunday. Two of the injured partygoers, whose names were not released, were hospitalized in critical condition. The condition of the third victim was less severe.

The shots sent dozens of partygoers, many of them underage, rushing out of the cramped pool hall on South Broadway, where as many as 200 had gathered for hours of dancing, with DJs, drinking and drug use, police said.

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Police detained and questioned about 100 partygoers but had made no arrests as of Sunday night.

In recent weeks, such violence has prompted police and Los Angeles school officials to crack down on the unsupervised “flier parties,” which are often promoted on middle and high school campuses with slick, lurid handbills promising sex, illicit drugs and ample alcohol.

Saturday’s fatal shooting was the fifth connected with the illegal parties this year in the 77th Street Division and the second at the same building. But the bashes -- and the violence -- are common throughout the city.

For example, in May, two young men were shot and killed at a flier party in Sylmar. On Sept. 25, two teenagers were shot and killed at a flier party in a downtown Los Angeles warehouse. On Nov. 13, two teenage boys were shot and one stabbed at a similar party in the fashion district.

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At a news conference, Assistant Police Chief Jim McDonnell called for greater responsibility from parents, building owners and party planners.

“You just wonder where the parents are when they allow their kids to go to these parties,” McDonnell said. The promoters “put out these fliers, they jam-pack these kids in there ... then pretty much anything, and everything, goes on.”

Los Angeles Unified School District officials recently urged principals to ban the fliers, which are usually distributed by “crews” of young promoters.

The violence also has prompted police to create special task forces in the San Fernando Valley and South Los Angeles to raid the gatherings, which police say attract youths as young as 12.

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On Saturday night around 11 p.m., about a dozen officers had gathered, and they persuaded a party promoter to close down the party when the shots rang out. The officers then rushed into the building.

The shooting was prompted by “some kind of dispute over a woman,” said Capt. Kenneth Garner of the 77th Street Division. When the shots were fired, many of the 200 attendees stampeded for the door; neighbors said some jumped over a back fence. Police rounded up about 100 suspects, loaded them onto buses and took them in for questioning.

“It was just chaos,” Garner said.

Neighbor Fernando Ramos, 30, heard the music and went in to see what was going on. Ramos said a man in a security guard uniform and other men patted him down for weapons and let him pass through the door.

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Ramos decided not to go in. The cover, he said, was too steep at $10. The cramped dance floor was packed, he said, “most of them were high school kids -- 16 or 17.”

Police said partygoers were buying hits of nitrous oxide, which is inhaled through balloons and produces a narcotic effect.

Word of the parties usually starts on campus, where the glossy fliers, sometimes adorned with pictures of half-naked women, DJs and dancers, spread from hand to hand.

One flier promoting a Nov. 19 party showed images of condom wrappers and women in provocative poses. It advertised the party as “Panties Dropping.”

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“They post fliers on poles, pass them out in high schools and junior high schools, everywhere there’s young people,” Los Angeles Police Officer Jose Torres told Board of Education members at a school safety committee meeting in October.

L.A. Unified announced its plans to ban the fliers after the meeting. It is urging principals to warn students about the dangers associated with underground get-togethers.

“It has become really an emergency situation, and we need to get the word out to the schools,” said Los Angeles Board of Education member Julie Korenstein at the October meeting.

“Most parents, regardless of where they are in the district, are really not aware of this,” said Rolf Janssen, assistant principal of Bell High School, who has confiscated many fliers on campus. “They think, ‘My kids are going with friends to a movie or a skate park.’ They don’t think [they are going to parties where] there may be outside folks, drugs, maybe weapons.”

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Navigating the weekend party scene is a complicated process for teens once they get hold of a flier. Each glossy handbill usually lists several phone numbers.

During the day, each hotline has a message from a different party promoter pumping up their event: “lots of alcohol,” “a huge dance floor” or “an indoor location.” Promoters tell callers to try back within a small window of time, usually just hours before the beginning of the event, for directions. Some hotlines, police say, only offer websites with directions, or lead teens to a person who gives them a map to the party.

Locations -- in parking lots, warehouses, abandoned homes -- often shift, sometimes in response to police raids.

In the Nov. 13 party, attended by a reporter, crowds gathered at a darkened outdoor lot behind a clothing business in the fashion district. The party had been moved three times.

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An hour and a half after the party got started, someone shot two teenage boys at the entrance -- hitting one in the arm, the other in the back -- and stabbed another teen in his left hip, according to Los Angeles Police Officer Chris Linscomb.

The wounded were transported to local emergency rooms, he said, but fled the hospital before police could interview them. Linscomb said he did not know whether the incident was gang-related. No one has been arrested, and there are no suspects, he said.

“Victims are either afraid to talk to police or unwilling to talk to police,” Linscomb said. “There were a lot of kids there, kids that were not supposed to be out.”

The next day, the empty lot was littered with Corona beer bottles, balloons and fliers depicting a topless woman advertising another party the following Friday.

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Business owners sometimes are unaware of the parties. Kil Ho Kim, owner of JB For Boys, arrived at work on a recent Monday morning to find his lot trashed. He said he cleaned up the mess, including some used condoms. The damage has been worse, he said. Sometimes revelers break his windows and spray graffiti on the outside walls.

“I report to police,” he said. “They never come. I called so many times. Nobody’s coming.”

At a news conference for the most recent shooting, police would not say whether the owner of the Broadway pool hall had rented the facility to the promoters. Reached on his cellphone Sunday, the owner, Ramiro Torres, said he did not know that there was a party at his place.

Neighbors said the brown-and-beige building has been a problem for years. In February, another late-night rave party was held there, Garner said. Police staking out the place saw an armed man chase someone out of the building, shooting. The officers shot and killed the suspect, Garner said.

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Another building in Garner’s territory has also been the site of two recent parties that resulted in fatal shootings. Bowing to community pressure, the owner of the building on Manchester Avenue agreed to convert it from a meeting hall into a church, Garner said.

At the Broadway pool hall Sunday, beer bottles and trash were strewn in front of a pair of locked doors. Among the debris were crumpled handbills for the next round of parties. One of them advertised “The First Annual Party Scene Awards” and featured an Oscar-style statuette of a partygoer holding a balloon and a compressed-gas tank, indicating nitrous oxide might be available.

On one of the hotlines Sunday, the recorded voice of a party promoter called for “peace in the underground.” But in the expletive-laden recording, he also called on partygoers to help make “the scene” even bigger.

Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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