Los Angeles: Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton recognized six officers and two Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics who kept Officer Kristina Ripatti alive last Saturday night after she was shot by an armed robber. The chief also addressed his concern for a disturbing trend of assaults against officers.
The recognition came during the Police Commission’s weekly board meeting today.
"If it weren’t for the immediate actions and professional training of these men, we would have lost Kristina that night," said Chief Bratton. "Not only did they save the life of a fellow police officer, they saved the life of a mother, daughter and wife."
Officer Ripatti, 33, was shot by James McNeal. Unbeknownst to the officers, McNeal had just robbed a gas station. Her partner, Officer Joe Meyer, 35, immediately returned fire, killing McNeal. Within seconds of hearing Meyer’s radio call, "Officer needs help. Officer down," plainclothes Sergeant Robin Brown arrived. He and Officer Meyer tried frantically to stop Kristina’s bleeding.
As luck had it, four SWAT officers had just finished working a crime suppression detail in the area and were at the Southwest Police Station, two blocks south of the shooting. Within one minute of the help call, the four SWAT officers, Ralph Ward, 51; Gary Koba, 43; Gil Pinel, 42; and Keith Bertonneau, 37, were at Officer Ripatti’s side with their medical bags. All four officers are Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT).
The four EMT-trained officers took over from Officer Meyer and Sergeant Brown. One bullet went through Ripatti’s arm, and the second one entered her chest near the armpit, above her ballestic vest.
"The officers’ actions in aid of their comrade were nothing less than extraordinary," Chief Bratton said.
The SWAT officers received EMT certification as part of their SWAT training. Every SWAT entry team has a designated medical technician trained to deal with traumatic injuries at the scene of barricaded-suspect and hostage situations.
Officers Ward, Koba, and Bertonneau are assigned to Metropolitan Division and have 16 years with LAPD. Officer Pinel is assigned to the same division and has 18 years with LAPD.
Officer Meyer has 8 years with LAPD, and Sergeant Brown has 18 years. Both are assigned to the Southwest Police Station.
Chief Bratton also recognized the quick work of two LAFD paramedics, Gerardo Puga and Adrian Vasquez, from Rescue Ambulance 34, who wasted no time getting Officer Ripatti to the hospital. Engine Company 34, led by Captain Christopher Grahek, and manned by Firefighter/EMTs Max Dino, Eddie Matamoros and Engineer Dae-Ho Moon, assisted in the rescue.
Chief Bratton also addressed a marked uptrend in assaults on police officers in which suspects shoot at officers, often completely unprovoked.
Since January, 18 police officers have been shot at in 11 incidents. There were only 6 such incidents for the same period last year, and 15 total for 2005. Officer Ripatti was the first officer struck by gunfire this year.
Six of the assaults took place in South Los Angeles: two each in 77th and Southeast Areas, and one each in Newton and Southwest Areas. Three more incidents occurred in the Hollenbeck Area, which covers East Los Angeles. The other two incidents occurred in the San Fernando Valley.
Only three of the incidents resulted in officers returning fire at the assailants: (1) the Southwest shooting last Saturday, (2) a Newton area occurrence on May 15, 2006, and (3) during a search warrant service on April 27, 2006, in Southeast Area.
The last six weeks were filled with armed confrontations for Los Angeles police officers in South Los Angeles:
• April 27 – A man was shot after he fired at officers serving a search warrant at his house in the 200 block of West 89th Street. The man was armed with a 9mm handgun.
• May 14 – Officers arrested two men whom the officers saw running from a group disturbance in the 4500 block of Van Ness Avenue. Both men were armed. One officer fired at one suspect after the suspect pointed a gun. That suspect dropped his gun and surrendered. The second suspect was captured, and police seized two guns.
• May 15 – A similar incident occurred the next night in the 200 block of 65th Street when a gunman shot at officers as they chased him through an alley. The suspect threw down his gun when one officer returned fire. The suspect was captured along with his gun.
• May 21 – In a span of 90 minutes officers were confronted by gunmen in three incidents. The first occurred at Rosecrans Recreation Park, where officers were monitoring a group of 200 gang members. One gang member pointed a .357 magnum revolver at officers when they tried to arrest him in the gymnasium. One officer shot the suspect, who turned out to be 16 years old.
• May 21 – The second incident occurred while officers were tending to the 16 year old. Other gunmen fired at the officers, but no suspects were arrested.
• May 21 – In a third incident, officers in another section of Watts heard what sounded like a drive-by shooting, then saw a speeding SUV. They pursued the SUV to an alley where two suspects jumped out the back doors. Officers chased the men on foot into an alley, where one suspect pointed a gun at officers. One officer fired, but both suspects got away and no guns were found. The stolen SUV was found a few minutes later, abandoned in the Imperial Courts housing development. It had been taken at gunpoint by four armed robbers. Detectives found casings from an assault weapon near 102nd and Grape Streets, near where officers had heard the drive-by shooting.
• May 23 – Two bike officers arrested an armed man after he pointed a gun at them in a yard in the 1200 block of 120th Street. One officer fired, which caused the man to drop his gun and surrender. Police recovered the man’s gun.
• May 24 – Two Metropolitan Division officers showed great restraint when they arrested a 17-year-old bicyclist who shot himself in the foot trying to pull a gun from his waistband. The officers tried to detain the youth for a traffic infraction on 61st Street. The officers arrested the juvenile without firing a shot despite the suspect’s attempt to evade the officers, and the officers hearing the shot. They recovered the bicyclist’s .38 caliber derringer.
• May 26 – Two Southeast officers saw three suspects, a juvenile with a rifle, an adult with a handgun, and another man, near Graham Avenue and 105th Street. They confronted the trio after seeing the juvenile throw the rifle over a fence into a vacant lot. One officer fired when the adult pointed the pistol at the officers. Officers arrested the juvenile and the armed adult. They seized a 9mm carbine rifle and a .45 caliber Glock handgun.
• June 3 – James McNeal robbed the R-Gas mini-market at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Denker Avenue, then shot Officer Ripatti. Her partner returned fire, killing McNeal on the porch of his mother’s home near Leighton Avenue and La Salle Street. Police recovered a .32 caliber revolver and over $700 in cash, taken from the gas station. Officer Ripatti remains in critical condition.