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Daily News - Lizarraga

Daily News

Friday, February 20, 2004

Parolee kills L.A. cop

Suspect found by K-9 officer 4 hours later hiding in back seat of car

By Ryan Oliver
Staff Writer

A parolee with a 16-year criminal history shot and killed a Los Angeles police officer during a domestic-violence investigation Friday, and was caught hiding in a parked car four hours later after a massive manhunt, officials said.

Officer Ricardo Lizarraga, 30, of Los Angeles had been on the force a little more than two years. He was shot in the lower abdomen, below his bulletproof vest, and died about two hours later at Cedars Sinai Medical Cente. The married officer was assigned to the Los Angeles Police Department's Newton area.

Lizarraga was the first LAPD officer killed in the line of duty since 1998. His slaying comes at a time when the department is experiencing a surge in shooting attacks targeting its officers, and just two weeks after community leaders in South Los Angeles denounced the attacks.

"We need these shootings of our police officers to stop," said Mayor James Hahn at a news conference near the scene of the shooting.

Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell, filling in for Chief William Bratton, who was visiting in Boston and rushed back for an evening news conference, said a woman flagged down a pair of officers in the South Los Angeles community of Leimert Park about 1 p.m., saying she was having trouble with a male acquaintance and wanted him removed from her home.

"As they approached him for a pat-down search, the suspect came up with a gun and began shooting," McDonnell said.

Lizarraga's partner returned fire but didn't hit the gunman, who ran away.

"(The officer's) injuries were so severe that upon arrival at the hospital, he had no pulse," said Deputy Chief Gary Brennan. "There was a high likelihood he would not survive. Doctors spent an hour and a half in emergency before determining they could not save him."

Hundreds of LAPD officers backed up by the California Highway Patrol and the county Sheriff's Department formed a perimeter around the area of the shooting as they launched a manhunt for the shooter.

Suspected gang member Kendrick William Johnson, 32, was found about 5 p.m., crouched in the back seat of a parked car, by police dogs following his scent. SWAT officers surrounded the car and took Johnson into custody at gunpoint.

Johnson is believed to be a gang member with a 16-year criminal record, and is on parole, police said. He was unarmed when police found him.

"We commend LAPD for having the suspect in custody in four hours," said City Councilman Martin Ludlow, who represents the district where the shooting occurred. "We give our condolences to the family, and we want to see this violence end immediately."

The shooting occurred about two weeks after area ministers and activists appealed for help to stop attacks on police officers in South Los Angeles.

Last year, Los Angeles police were targets of 40 shootings, injuring two officers. The figure is a 21 percent increase from the previous year.

As of Jan. 21, six officers had already been targeted this year, officials said. Despite that, Friday's shooting marked the first on-duty death for the department since November 1998, when a drive-by shooting suspect opened fire on Officer Brian Brown's patrol car with an assault rifle.

"Our fear was that one day we would be standing out here with our worst nightmare confirmed," Ludlow said. "That is, in fact, today. We are frustrated with the brazen acts of people in this community."

McDonnell said the increase in shooting attacks on police comes as officers are redoubling their efforts to clean up the city's worst neighborhoods under the direction of Bratton.

"I think we have come out aggressively against gang violence and the push-back we're getting is a level of desperation," McDonnell said. "We will continue to push the worst to make this the safest city possible.

"These gang members have had the run of the city and it's time for everyone to step forward and start talking. If you have a suspect of any kind in the neighborhood, you need to come forward and identify them."

Bob Baker, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said the department and community must continue to address the issue of violence against police officers.

"We're extremely saddened by the events of today," Baker said. "But it's not a surprise. The league for months has been raising the issue of unprovoked attacks on police officers."

Ryan Oliver, (818) 713-3669