Crime Beat
and said, ‘Hey, it is the police.’”
Courts: Case will focus on tactics of Special Investigations Officers who fatally shot three robbers.
    January 10, 1992
    Members of a controversial Los Angeles police squad who fatally shot three men after a 1990 robbery in Sunland were called “assassins with badges” Thursday by an attorney representing the families of the dead men in a civil rights lawsuit.
    Attorney Stephen Yagman made the allegation during opening statements in a U.S. District Court trial that will focus on the tactics of the police department’s Special Investigations Section, a 19-member surveillance unit that targets suspects in serious crimes.
    The families of the three men killed in the Feb. 12, 1990, shooting, along with a fourth robber who was shot but survived, charge that the SIS is a “death squad” that follows suspects, allows them to commit crimes and then frequently shoots them when officers move in to make arrests.
    “What they do is attempt to terminate the existence of the people they are following,” Yagman told the 10 jurors hearing the case.
    Deputy City Atty. Don Vincent countered that the officers acted properly and that the SIS is a valuable police tool. “This is a necessary organization that most police departments have,” he said. “It is even more important in Los Angeles, a city of 365 square miles . . . where the criminals are just as mobile as the police.”
    The trial before Judge J. Spencer Letts is expected to last at least two weeks. The suit names members of the SIS, Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, Mayor Tom Bradley, the Police Commission and all former commissioners and chiefs during the unit’s 25-year existence. Yagman says officials have allowed an environment in which a “shadowy” unit such as the SIS can operate. The shooting in front of a McDonald’s restaurant on Foothill Boulevard occurred after a lengthy investigation into a series of restaurant robberies. Police said that in late 1989 investigators identified the suspects—Jesus Arango, 25, and Herbert Burgos, 37, of Venice and Juan Bahena, 20, and Alfredo Olivas, 21, both of Hollywood.
    SIS officers followed the four intermittently for three months before they watched them break into the McDonald’s where manager Robin L. Cox was working alone after closing for the night.
    After they tied up, gagged and blindfolded Cox, the robbers left the restaurant with $14,000 from its safe.
    When all four were seated in their getaway car, SIS officers moved in on foot and in cars. Police said two of the men pointed guns at the officers, who opened fire, killing three and wounding Olivas in the stomach. Police said they recovered three pellet guns that resembled pistols.
    Officers later explained that they could not make arrests before the robbery because the four men moved too quickly and were too spread out around the restaurant.
    Whether the men in the car were armed at the time of the shooting will be at issue in the trial. Yagman said they had no weapons and were shot in the back.
    Olivas, the first witness to testify, said that the robbers stored their weapons in the trunk of the car before getting in. The shooting started a few seconds later, said Olivas, who is serving a 17-year prison term for the robberies.
    Vincent in his opening statement sharply disagreed, saying two of the robbers drew the police fire when they pointed their weapons at the officers. “Officers have a right to self-defense,” he said. “They don’t have to wait for someone to shoot them.”
Police: Existence of inquiry came to light in suit over SIS unit’s killings of three men who had robbed a Valley restaurant.
    January 16, 1992
    The FBI is investigating the killing of three robbers in Sunland by a controversial Los Angeles police squad, and the Justice Department apparently has taken the case before a federal grand

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