Brush With Death Tightens a Bond

Times Staff Writer

When Officer John Porras hugged his wounded partner, Officer James Tuck, at USC University Hospital on Monday, he couldn’t let go.

So tight is the bond between the 18-year-LAPD veteran and the rookie that they virtually had to be pried apart.

“We were partners. We are now brothers for life,” said Porras, 48. “When I saw him today it lifted my spirits greatly. I was so happy to see him doing better and he was happy to see me. We thanked God we survived.”


The partners had been patrolling the Hollenbeck Division together for four months, Porras using his years on the streets of Boyle Heights and the Eastside to teach the rhythm and cadence of patrol work to Tuck, 25, who was so new to the force that he was still in the probationary period.

Saturday night, they noticed a black Honda with a broken light in the Montecito Heights area.

Porras, who was behind the wheel, turned on the red lights, but the Honda didn’t stop.

A few blocks later, the driver appeared to heed, pulling off Flora Avenue onto Sierra Street.

But before Porras could even put the cruiser in park, a man jumped out of the Honda with an AK-47 rifle and sprayed the partners with gunfire.

Porras said Monday that he knew they were in trouble when he saw the massive magazine attached to the weapon.

“I know there’s a banana clip on the weapon,” he said. “All we could do was duck.”

Tuck was still calling in the pair’s location when he was hit with a high velocity round through the cruiser’s front window, nearly severing his wrist.


The gunman then ran down the passenger’s side of the cruiser, firing repeatedly.

The gunfire shattered the windows and tore holes in the car’s hood, door and frame.

From the passenger’s seat, Tuck managed to return fire using his good hand.

Porras jumped out of the vehicle, hitting his knee hard on the ground. He used the car as a barrier between him and the gunman, who continued to fire.

He could not see the assailant but could hear his footsteps between bursts of fire.

Suddenly, the police cruiser -- which was still in neutral -- lurched forward, giving the gunman a clear shot at Porras.

“That’s when I engaged him,” the officer said. “He leveled his weapon toward me, I began shooting. I missed with the first few, then I hit him in the leg and knocked him down.”

Tuck kept firing as well but was hit twice more, once in the right elbow and once in the back.

The gunman fled, along with the driver of the Honda, Porras said.

Porras grabbed his hand-held radio and frantically called, “Officer down, officer down, shots fired.” Tuck managed to get out of the cruiser and hobble to Porras, holding his hand.

“It looked like his hand was going to drop off,” Porras said.

Then another car emerged, going slowly down the street.

Porras said this was his greatest moment of fear because he worried the driver was an accomplice waiting to finish the job.


Instead, it turned out to be a resident on his way to work.

Porras grabbed the medical kit from the cruiser, but he knew it wouldn’t be enough to stem Tuck’s bleeding. By then, some residents had emerged.

“I called out for towels,” Porras said. “To their credit, people came out with towels and blankets. I’ve been back to thank them.”

A few minutes later, other officers arrested two suspects.

Police Chief William J. Bratton on Monday described the incident as an “attempted assassination” and pointed to the shattered remains of the squad car as evidence.

“You only have to look at the police car to recognize they both have guardian angels quite obviously looking over them,” Bratton said.

The chief said he was disturbed because the case marked the 15th time this year that suspects have fired at police officers. That’s the same number that occurred in all of last year.

“These incidents, as you know, are disturbing, and they really tear at the fabric of a civilized society,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, whose 14th District includes the shooting scene. Police officers “are the thin line that protects our communities and our children from these people who are terrorizing our communities.”


USC surgeons were able to save Tuck’s hand with skin grafts and tissue from his leg.

Bratton said he visited the rookie Monday and left impressed.

“He’s [been] replaying it in his mind. He talked about that this morning,” Bratton said. “He said, ‘I have been running it through my mind, is there anything I could have done different?’ And he says, ‘I cannot think of anything I could have done different than what I did.’ ”

The chief said he asked the rookie if there was anything he could do to help. Tuck responded by asking for water coolers at the Hollenbeck station, where officers are in temporary cramped quarters as a new police station is being built. Bratton said they would be delivered today.

Authorities identified the alleged gunman as Jose Perez, 31, of Los Angeles and the driver as Alfredo Escobedo, 36, of Los Angeles. They are being held on attempted murder charges at the L.A. County Jail.

Porras on Monday said that he was relieved that his partner was on the road to recovery and that their ordeal together strengthened his feeling about Tuck’s future in the LAPD.

“He is very good probationary officer,” he said.