Boyle Heights gunfight erupts

Times Staff Writers

A Boyle Heights gun battle between Los Angeles police officers and a group of drug suspects Thursday left a narcotics detective wounded and a suspect dead.

The detective, a 14-year veteran, suffered a non-life-threatening injury to one leg, but escaped a potentially deadly wound to his head when a bullet ricocheted off his helmet, authorities said.

The firefight occurred about 3 p.m. when officers from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollenbeck Division gang enforcement team, assisted by narcotics detectives, attempted to serve a search warrant at a residential building in the 2500 block of Malabar Street.

At least 30 residents were told to evacuate the area as two to four suspects were holed up inside the building.


When officers began forcing their way through the door, the suspects opened fire, said Police Chief William J. Bratton. The officers returned fire.

At least two suspects were taken into custody shortly after the gunfight, although tensions remained high for several hours as SWAT officers and LAPD commanders tried to determine if additional suspects remained inside the building, possibly laying in wait for officers.

The standoff was finally resolved shortly after 7 p.m. when police used a robot equipped with a camera to investigate the interior of the building.

When the robot failed to detect any movement, SWAT officers entered the building. They discovered one dead suspect with numerous gunshot wounds, several handguns and a quantity of what police described only as narcotics.

At a news conference Thursday night, LAPD Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz said that the wounded detective was recovering at a hospital and that he was “in good spirits” and “his loved ones are with him.”

Authorities did not name the detective, although they did say that his wife also is a Los Angeles police officer.

To demonstrate the injured officer’s close brush with death, Diaz held up a black, Kevlar military-style helmet he was wearing at the time of the raid. A chalky smudge on the front of the helmet revealed exactly where a bullet had struck the officer and ricocheted off.

“He survived a head wound because he was wearing a ballistic helmet,” Diaz said.

He said the officers, who were serving the warrant on a suspect who allegedly had been victimizing people in the neighborhood, had been prepared for the “high likelihood of coming under fire” because of the suspect’s “history.”

As events unfolded Thursday evening, residents sat on porches and stood on street corners watching the situation.

Four helicopters hovered overhead and fire vehicles and unmarked police cars crowded the streets.

Anthony Alba, 16, standing at the corner of Soto and Boulder streets, said he had been waiting 20 minutes to get to his home.

Police had blocked off the street and were not allowing residents to enter.

“It’s an everyday thing, I’m sure,” Alba said of the police activity in the area, adding that he did not know the details of the situation.

Another friend standing on the street corner with Alba and wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey said he also was waiting to get to his home on neighboring Cincinnati Street to watch the Lakers-Celtics game.

“They won’t let me through,” he said.

The police cordon around the neighborhood was scheduled to be removed by early this morning.

After the police news conference Thursday, 14th District City Councilman Jose Huizar, a native of Boyle Heights, said he was saddened by the outbreak of violence.

“It’s unfortunate this happened because our officers are putting their lives on the line to make this area safe,” he said.

The councilman said that there had been an 18% decline in violent crime in the area this year compared with last year.

“It’s night and day compared to how this neighborhood used to be,” Huizar said.

Not too long ago, the councilman said that you could pull up to a traffic light and someone would come up to your window and offer to sell you drugs.