Twenty years ago today, North Hollywood Shootout, played out on live TV.  You can see the last nine minutes play out above. 

Our show ended at 9am back then, but after this started playing out live on TV, we came back on the air and broadcast live as it was happening.

At 9:17am, two LAPD officers, Loren Farrell and Martrin Perello were driving down Laurel Canyon Blvd and saw two men, dressed all in black, entering the Bank of America branch at the intersection of Laurel Canyon and Archwood.  

They called in “a possible 211 in progress.’  (Code for armed robbery)

The two men were Larry Eugene Phillips Jr and Emil Matasareanu.

Both had arrived at the bank a few minutes before and sat in their car.  They took phenobarbital to calm their nerves.  They were dressed head to toe in black with ski masks and heavy body armor (something the responding offiers wouldn't know until they confronted them) and set wristwatches they had sewn into the back of their gloves for 8 minutes, the time they believed it would take LAPD to respond to a bank robbery

Each were armed with with a Norinco Type 56  S-1 rifle  (a variant of the AK-47, illegally modified)

In addition, in their car they had: several more guns including: 

  1. Bushmaster XM 15 Dissipator
  2. Beretta 92 pistols
  3. HK-91 rifles

They also had more than 3,300 rounds of ammunition including armor-piercing bullets.

The two robbed the bank, firing rounds into the ceiling to scare customers.  They forced the bank manager to open the vault and fill their bags to the tune of more than $300,000.   When they exited the bank from separate doors, at 9:24am, what ensued was a shootout that lasted for 37 minutes with the suspects shooting at everything, and everyone without regard...cops, civilians, cars, police helicopters and nearby stores and residences in the surrounding area as they roamed the streets.  

We went through all 44 minutes of dispatch audio of the incident and put together an 8 minute montage of what it sounded like from beginning to end.   

It all finally ended at 10:01am, an estimated almost 2,000 rounds of ammo was fired between police officers and the suspects.  

Twelve police officers and 7 civilians were left with non-fatal injuries, ranging from very serious to minor.

Dozens of vehicles and other property were damaged or destroyed.

The two gunmen were down.

Phillips was dead, first shot by officers and then from a self inflicted gunshot wound.

Matasareanu, who had attempted to carjack another vehicle to flee, was shot by police in the legs (which were unprotected by armor) and when officers cuffed him, he told officers, “shoot me in the head!”

He eventually died of massive blood loss (29 gunshots to his person, 20 shots specifically to his legs) because police, not knowing if there were other suspects, couldn’t allow EMTs to tend to him until they were sure there were no other suspects. It was alleged that had EMT’s been given access to him sooner, he would have likely survived his injuries.

(Matasareanu’s family filed a lawsuit against the LAPD on behalf of his children saying his civil rights had been violated and that he was allowed to bleed to death.  In March 2000, the case ended in a mistrial. The jury deadlocked 9-3 in favor of the city and officers.   Later the family agreed to drop the lawsuit.)

This case changed policing not only in LA but across the country, this incident is used for training purposes nationwide. 

At the time, LAPD officers carried their standard issued: 9 mm pistols, .38 special revolvers and patrol cars also had a 12-gauge shotgun.

Quite simply, until SWAT officers arrived on the scene almost 18 minutes after the incident started, officers on scene were outgunned. 

In fact, their normal firepower was so ineffective, that officers had to go to a local gun store, B&B, to get AR-15s and other semi-automatic rifles in order to have a fighting chance.

It was the catalyst for a huge debate over the firepower that patrol police carry in their vehicles.

As a result, today, patrol officers weapons have been upgraded.  LAPD officers are able to carry high-caliber handguns and have been trained on high powered rifles now common in police vehicles to give officers an edge in a situation like that without having to wait for SWAT.

Tactics and strategies were changed and improved.

Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse was the Incident Commander that day.  He joined Bill this morning to talk about his memories of the incident.

One year after the incident, 19 LAPD officers received the department’s Medal of Valor for their actions that day.   A “Use of Force” report about this incident praised the officers saying:

“Numerous officers engaged the suspects at their own peril to save other officers and citizens.  Although numerous rounds were fired, the officers utilized controlled fire.  AS a result, the suspects, who were attired in body armor, were distracted and their escape attempt was obstructed.It is apparent that the officers’ actions prevented further injury and death to citizens and ultimately stopped the suspects’ deadly threat.”

The officers involved in the incident say they’ll never forget what happened that day, and many have had to undergo physical therapy and PTSD counseling for what they experienced.

Retired Det. Thomas Culotta told The Times:

“I saw my rounds hit his black jacket, and as I shot at him, he kept coming. Was this a dream? I wasn’t sure, but as this specter made eye contact with me, he pointed his weapon and fired right at me…I remember asking God, ‘Is this the day?’  Death was coming.”

Retired officer Martin Whitfield was the most seriously injured.  He had four bullet wounds, one of which smashed his femur just below the hip

He told the LA Times:

“I’m still surviving this ordeal. Multiple surgeries and many months of physical and mental therapy immediately followed the shooting. Although I remember ever minute of Feb 28, 1997, I cherish every minute after that day and have developed a lifestyle of surviving.”

The incident was also the subject of the movie '44 Minutes'

Here's more of the dispatch audio.... 

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