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LAPD hands out annual awards for bravery and 'preservation of life'

LAPD hands out annual awards for bravery and 'preservation of life'
LAPD Michel Moore congratulates Suzanna Kazarian while awarding her the Preservation of Life medal, recognizing officers who avoid the use of deadly force. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

It seemed like a routine 911 call, asking for help with an argument between neighbors.

As Los Angeles Police Officers Suzanna Kazarian and John Acosta stood in the driveway talking to one of the neighbors, a man approached from behind them.

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He pointed an object that looked like a shotgun with a cloth over it, bending his knees as if preparing to shoot.

Kazarian and Acosta both drew their guns. It was their first day working together.

In a split second, wordlessly, they came to the same decision — to spare the man’s life while risking their own.

“My partner turned around, and I did, too,” said Kazarian, 29. “We knew what we had to do.”

On Thursday, Kazarian and Acosta were among nine officers who received the Los Angeles Police Department’s Preservation of Life medal for their role in the April 22, 2017, incident in North Hollywood. The ceremony at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, hosted by the Los Angeles Police Foundation, honored 29 officers with awards that included the Medal of Valor for extreme courage while facing imminent peril, and the Purple Heart for being killed or seriously injured in the line of duty.

Instead of shooting, Kazarian and Acosta hid behind a car, ordering the man to drop his weapon. The man fled up the stairs to his apartment and barricaded himself inside. His brothers said he suffered from paranoia, used methamphetamines and was known to set booby traps.

Kazarian and other officers knocked on neighbors’ doors and helped them evacuate. A SWAT team arrived.

After hours of negotiations, the man emerged holding a stick, then added a metal pipe to his arsenal. An officer hit him with a 40-millimeter less-than-lethal projectile, but he went back inside and set the apartment on fire.

After he armed himself with a jagged piece of wood, an officer struck him with a round from a beanbag shotgun. Another officer used a Taser on him before he could be handcuffed.

Because of the fire, the object the man had pointed at the officers was never found, Kazarian said.

The Preservation of Life medal, for avoiding the use of deadly force in the face of danger, was controversial when the LAPD first awarded it two years ago.

The union representing rank-and-file officers initially blasted it as a "terrible idea" that prioritized "the lives of suspected criminals over the lives of LAPD officers."

Since then, the department has implemented a new de-escalation policy requiring officers to take their time, back off, try to talk to the suspect and call for reinforcements "whenever it is safe and reasonable to do so."

All officers undergo 10 hours of training with live-action scenarios to practice verbal persuasion and deploying less-lethal weapons such as Tasers and beanbag shotguns.

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Two other Preservation of Life medals were awarded Thursday to Officers Brandon Greiner and Isidro Rodriguez, for convincing a man to drop his knife during a confrontation in South Los Angeles on Christmas Eve 2017.

In remarks to the audience, LAPD Chief Michel Moore characterized the officers being honored as both ordinary and extraordinary. Each of the LAPD’s 10,000 officers has been trained to display the same bravery, Moore said.

“They did what anyone in this department would do,” said Moore, who received the Medal of Valor in 1987. “They changed the course of time. They saved a life. They made a decision that will last for generations to come.”

Officer Nhut Huynh was among 16 officers who received the Medal of Valor for acts that included rescuing a child from a burning house and saving a woman from a man who was stabbing her.

Huynh took the stage with a 9-year-old Belgian Malinois named Edo, now retired. Moore draped a medal around Edo’s neck for his role in saving two brothers from a hostage situation in Harbor Division on New Year’s Day 2016.

That day, Huynh and other K-9 officers from the LAPD’s Metropolitan Division were nearby when a carjacking suspect ran into an apartment, stabbing a father and shooting his two sons.

LAPD Chief of Police Michel Moore awards retired K-9 Edo a medal for his role in saving two brothers from a hostage situation.
LAPD Chief of Police Michel Moore awards retired K-9 Edo a medal for his role in saving two brothers from a hostage situation. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Dogs are not typically deployed in such situations, Huynh said. But the team was nearby, and the two young men needed to be rescued immediately.

The K-9 officers sent Edo into the apartment believing the dog would probably be shot, Huynh said. Also, they didn’t know if Edo would attack the injured brothers instead of the suspect, who was wanted for armed robberies and a homicide.

“We were taking a chance. We knew we would lose the boys if we didn’t,” Huynh, 44, said.

When a shot rang out, officers feared the worst for Edo. But the assailant had turned the gun on himself.

Edo ran past the brothers and charged at the attacker, moving the man’s leg to dislodge a gun. The man died a few hours later, and the brothers survived.

“I truly believe animals know the difference between good and evil,” Huynh said.

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