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Wounded Officer Is Paralyzed

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Police Officer Kristina Ripatti is paralyzed from the chest down after being shot by a robbery suspect Saturday night in South Los Angeles.

Ripatti remains hospitalized after surgery at California Hospital Medical Center, and although doctors have said she could recover some movement, she is unlikely to walk again, LAPD officials said Friday.

“We are holding out hope. But there are permanent effects,” said Lt. Paul Vernon, LAPD spokesman.

Ripatti, 33, was shot twice by a 52-year-old ex-convict, James Fenton McNeal, who had allegedly robbed a gas station before confronting her. An instant after McNeal shot Ripatti, Ripatti’s partner shot and killed McNeal.

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Ripatti is a 10-year veteran of the LAPD and the mother of a 15-month-old girl. Peers call her one of the Southwest Division’s highest-performing officers, admired by colleagues for her acumen, drive and superb physical fitness. Tall and lithe, Ripatti is married to another member of the department, Southeast Division gang officer Tim Pearce.

Pearce was on patrol Saturday night in Watts when the radio call of “officer down” was broadcast over police frequencies. He sped to the scene and arrived about 15 minutes after his wife was shot, Vernon said. She was bleeding on the ground and being treated by other officers when he got there, Vernon said.

Officers at the scene reported that members of a neighborhood gang stood by taunting them as they tried to help the wounded Ripatti, said LAPD Capt. James Craig, head of the Southwest Division, who arrived after Ripatti had been taken by ambulance to California Hospital.

Such confrontations, pitting groups of onlookers against police officers and even paramedics, have occurred after other shootings in South L.A. But the events Craig described were especially disquieting, with officers attempting to treat the critically wounded Ripatti while dealing with a threatening crowd.

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Officers also tried to treat McNeal for his injuries, Vernon said, but he had no vital signs and died at the scene.

Vernon sought to dispel rumors that officers handcuffed McNeal and threw him off the porch where the shooting occurred. They handcuffed him, as they are taught to do, because wounded suspects have been known to abruptly revive and attack again, but they did not throw him, Vernon said.

McNeal had a 33-page rap sheet that includes a conviction for a second-degree murder in 1973 and a robbery in Inglewood five years later, followed by other prison sentences and robberies, Vernon said.

Near the scene of the shooting, an older man who described himself as a friend and neighbor of McNeal’s said he came outside Saturday to see what was going on. McNeal ran up on the porch and shot Ripatti before Meyer shot him, said the man, who declined to be identified.

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“Then a million police came,” he said, smoking a cigarette and drinking Gatorade on a porch. “What [the police] told you happened is basically what happened. Everyone here will tell you the same thing.

“I’m sorry for the whole thing. Sorry for the police officer. It’s a messed-up situation. He’s dead, and she’s paralyzed, all for some money.”

After visiting Ripatti at the hospital Friday, Craig said that her spirits were high and that she is insisting on maintaining hope for her future.

She has been deluged with visitors, he said, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William J. Bratton.

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“I know it is rare when folks recover from this type of injury, and we recognize the extent of it,” said Craig, who added that he also remains optimistic. “If you just talk to her, you can see the spirit and the strength she has.... She has said to me several times in the past few days, ‘I want to come back to work. I’m gonna come back to work.’ She came on to be a police officer, and she is going to continue.”

Craig said he has been overwhelmed with calls from Southwest Division residents expressing support.

As news of Ripatti’s paralysis spread through the department this week, Craig said, he made a point of praising his officers at roll calls for their conduct at the shooting scene, which he credited for saving her life.

Those who responded showed “professional demeanor ... in a critical situation -- having to deal with a hostile crowd taunting them, and not overreacting to that situation,” he said.

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The LAPD is planning fundraisers to aid Ripatti and her family, including a public barbecue at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Southwest station on Martin Luther King Boulevard just west of Normandie Avenue, and another barbecue at the Southeast Division east of Broadway on 108th Street at 11 a.m. June 28.

In addition, the Kristi Ripatti Trustee Donation Account has been established at the Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union. Donation checks payable to Ripatti or Pearce should be sent to LAPFCU, 16150 Sherman Way, Van Nuys, CA 91410.


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