North Hollywood shootout
|North Hollywood shootout|
Larry Phillips, Jr. (left) and Emil Mătăsăreanu (right) engaged LAPD officers in a firefight after robbing a branch of Bank of America.
|Location||North Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S.,|
|Date||February 28, 1997
9:17 AM – 10:01 AM (UTC-8)
|Target||A branch of Bank of America.|
|Bank robbery, shootout, suicide (Phillips)|
|Weapon(s)||Automatic assault rifles, pistols|
|Deaths||2: both Mătăsăreanu (shot) and Phillips (self-inflicted gunshot wound)|
|Perpetrators||Larry Eugene Phillips Jr
Emil Decebal Mătăsăreanu
The North Hollywood shootout was an armed confrontation between two heavily armed and armored bank robbers and officers of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in the North Hollywood district of Los Angeles on February 28, 1997. Both robbers were killed, eleven police officers and seven civilians were injured, and numerous vehicles and other property were damaged or destroyed by the nearly 2,000 rounds of ammunition fired by the robbers and police.
At 9:17 AM, Larry Phillips, Jr. and Emil Mătăsăreanu entered and robbed the North Hollywood Bank of America branch. Phillips and Mătăsăreanu were confronted by LAPD officers when they exited the bank and a shootout between the officers and robbers ensued. The two robbers attempted to flee the scene, Phillips on foot and Mătăsăreanu in their getaway vehicle, while continuing to engage the officers. The shootout continued onto a residential street adjacent to the bank until Phillips was mortally wounded, including by a self-inflicted gunshot wound; Mătăsăreanu was killed by officers three blocks away. Phillips and Mătăsăreanu are believed to have robbed at least two other banks using virtually identical methods by taking control of the entire bank and firing automatic weapons chambered in intermediate cartridges for control and entry past 'bullet-proof' security doors, and are possible suspects in two armored vehicle robberies.
Local patrol officers at the time were typically armed with their standard issue 9 mm or .38 Special pistols, with some having a 12-gauge shotgun available in their cars. Phillips and Mătăsăreanu carried illegally modified fully automatic Norinco Type 56 S-1s, a Bushmaster XM15 Dissipator, and a HK-91 rifle with high capacity drum magazines and ammunition capable of penetrating vehicles and police Kevlar vests. The bank robbers wore body armor which successfully deflected bullets and shells fired by the responding patrolmen. SWAT eventually arrived bearing sufficient firepower, and they commandeered an armored truck to evacuate the wounded. Several officers also appropriated AR-15 rifles from a nearby firearms dealer. The incident sparked debate on the need for patrol officers to upgrade their capabilities in similar situations in the future.
Due to the large number of injuries, rounds fired, weapons used, and overall length of the shootout, it is regarded as one of the longest and bloodiest events in American police history.
Larry Eugene Phillips Jr (born September 20, 1970) and Emil Decebal Mătăsăreanu (born July 19, 1966 in Romania) first met at a Gold's Gym in Venice, Los Angeles, California in 1989. They had a mutual interest in weightlifting, bodybuilding and firearms.
On July 20, 1993 the pair robbed an armored car outside of a branch of FirstBank in Littleton, Colorado.
On October 29, 1993, Phillips and Mătăsăreanu were arrested in Glendale, northeast of Los Angeles, California, for speeding. A subsequent search of their vehicle—after Phillips surrendered with a concealed weapon—found two semi-automatic rifles, two handguns, more than 1,600 rounds of 7.62×39mm rifle ammunition, 1,200 rounds of 9×19mm Parabellum and .45 ACP handgun ammunition, radio scanners, smoke bombs, improvised explosive devices, body armor vests, and three different California license plates. Initially charged with conspiracy to commit robbery, both served one hundred days in jail and were placed on three years' probation. After their release, most of their seized property was returned to them.
On June 14, 1995, the pair ambushed a Brinks armored car, killing one guard, Herman Cook, in the robbery. In May 1996, they robbed two branches of Bank of America in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, CA, stealing approximately US$1.5 million. Phillips and Mătăsăreanu were dubbed the "High Incident Bandits" by investigators due to the weaponry they had used in three robberies prior to their attempt in North Hollywood.
The events of February 28
On the morning of Friday, February 28, 1997, after months of preparation, including extensive reconnoitering of their intended target—the Bank of America branch located at 6600 Laurel Canyon Boulevard—Phillips and Mătăsăreanu loaded five rifles and approximately 3,300 rounds of ammunition in box and drum magazines into the trunk of their vehicle: two converted fully automatic Norinco Type 56 S rifles, a converted fully automatic Norinco Type 56 S-1, a semi automatic HK-91, and converted fully automatic Bushmaster (M16) XM15 Dissipator. They filled a jam jar with gasoline and placed it in the back seat with the intention of setting the car and weapons on fire to destroy evidence after the robbery. Phillips wore roughly 40 lbs of equipment, including a Type IIIA bulletproof vest and groin guard, a load bearing vest and multiple military canteen pouches for ammunition storage, and several pieces of home made body armor created from spare vests, covering his shins, thighs, and forearms. Mătăsăreanu wore only a Type IIIA bulletproof vest, but included a metal trauma plate to protect vital organs. Additionally, both robbers had sewn watch faces onto the back of their gloves to check their timing inside the bank. Before entering, they took the barbiturate phenobarbital, prescribed to Mătăsăreanu as an anticonvulsant, to calm their nerves.
Phillips and Mătăsăreanu, driving a white 1987 Chevrolet Celebrity, arrived at the Bank of America branch office at the intersection of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Archwood Street in North Hollywood around 9:17 AM, and set their watch alarms for eight minutes, which they estimated was the average police response time. Phillips had been using a radio scanner to listen to police transmissions to determine this timeframe. This was not the case, as while the two were walking in, they were spotted by two officers, Loren Farrell and Martin Perello, in a patrol car driving down Laurel Canyon, and Officer Perello called out on the radio, "15-A-43, requesting assistance, we have a possible 211 in progress at the Bank of America." 211 is the code for an armed robbery.
As they entered the bank, Phillips and Mătăsăreanu forced a customer leaving the ATM lobby near the entrance into the bank and onto the floor. A security guard inside saw the scuffle and the heavily armed robbers and radioed his partner in the parking lot to call the police; the call was not received. Phillips shouted "This is a fucking hold up!" before he and Mătăsăreanu opened fire into the ceiling to scare the approximately thirty bank staff and customers and to discourage resistance. Mătăsăreanu shot at the bulletproof door that gained access to the tellers and vault, and the door, designed to resist only small-calibre rounds, broke open. The robbers forced assistant manager John Villigrana to open the vault, all of this after firing at least 150 rounds into the ceiling and door. After Villigrana opened the vault and filled the robbers' money bag, Mătăsăreanu, enraged at the fact that only small amounts of money were in the safe, argued with Villigrana, demanding more. In another burst of anger, Mătăsăreanu reportedly fired a full drum magazine of 75 rounds into the bank's safe, destroying the rest of the money. They were only able to get US$303,305, instead of the expected US$750,000 because the bank had altered the delivery schedule.
The first-responding officers outside heard the gunfire from the bank and made another radio call to summon additional units, and proceeded to take cover behind their patrol car, weapons trained on the bank doors. Additional patrol and detective units arrived while the robbers were inside the bank, taking strategic positions and surrounding the bank on all four corners. At around 9:32 AM, Phillips exited the bank through its north doorway and briefly looked around, possibly to survey the positions of police units surrounding the bank who had responded to the "shots fired" call. Officers shouted repeatedly for Phillips to drop his weapon and surrender, however he turned around and walked back inside the bank. Several minutes later, he reemerged through the north doorway again and Mătăsăreanu exited through the south doorway.
Phillips and Mătăsăreanu began to engage the officers, firing sporadic bursts into the patrol cars that had been positioned on Laurel Canyon in front of the bank. Officers immediately returned fire. The patrol officers were armed with standard Beretta 92F and Beretta 92FS 9mm pistols and Smith & Wesson Model 15 .38 caliber revolvers. Some officers, notably Officer James Zaboravan, also carried a 12-gauge Ithaca Model 37 pump-action shotgun, but this weaponry could not penetrate aramid body armor worn by Phillips and Mătăsăreanu. The robbers' armor protected much of their bodies and provided more bullet resistance than standard-issue police Kevlar vests. The robbers' heads were the only vital organs that were unprotected, but most of the LAPD officers' service pistols had insufficient range and relatively poor accuracy. Additionally, the officers were pinned down by the heavy spray of gunfire coming from the robbers, making it difficult to attempt a headshot. Multiple officers and civilians were wounded in the seven to eight minutes from when the shooting began to when Mătăsăreanu entered the robbers' white sedan to make a getaway. By this time, television news helicopters were arriving on the scene. SWAT commanders would use the live coverage to pass critical, time-sensitive information to officers on the ground. Mătăsăreanu ushered Phillips to get into the vehicle, but Phillips remained outside of it, retrieved a HK-91 from the trunk, and continued firing on officers and helicopters while crouching behind the cars in the parking lot. As Phillips approached the driver side of getaway vehicle after suppressing officers, a shotgun blast hit him above the left wrist. In response, Phillips quickly backed away from the vehicle and continued firing, holding the rifle with his injured forearm against the magwell. Phillips fired roughly 60 to 120 rounds from the HK-91 until it was struck in the receiver and magazine by police bullets. He later retrieved a Norinco Type 56 S-1 from the trunk of the Celebrity.
After LAPD radio operators received the second "officer down" call from police at the shootout, a tactical alert was issued. The SWAT team had just started an exercise run when they received the call and had no time to change, and were thus wearing running shoes and shorts under their body armor. They arrived 18 minutes after the shooting had started, armed with AR-15s. The SWAT officers spotted and commandeered an armored truck that was doing its scheduled cash delivery, which they used to extract wounded civilians and officers from the scene towards the end of the shootout.
Deaths of the gunmen
At 9:52, Phillips, who had been using the getaway vehicle as cover, split from Mătăsăreanu, turned east on Archwood Street, took cover behind a parked truck, and continued to fire at the police. However, the rifle suffered a malfunction. Erroneously reported as a "stovepipe" jam, in reality a round had become jammed while feeding into the chamber, also trapping the spent cartridge from the previous round. He made an attempt to remove the drum and clear the jam, but ultimately discarded the weapon after failing to clear it, possibly due to being wounded in the left hand and forearm. After abandoning the rifle, Phillips drew a Beretta 92FS pistol and continued firing at police. He was then shot in the right hand, briefly dropped the pistol, retrieved it, and placed the muzzle of his pistol under his chin and shot himself. As his body fell in a crouch-like demeanor, a police bullet hit him in the back of the neck severing his spine, and several others struck him as he was down. After the firing stopped, officers in the area surrounded Phillips, cuffed him, and removed his ski mask.
Mătăsăreanu's vehicle was rendered nearly inoperable after its tires were shot out. At 9:56, he attempted to carjack a yellow 1963 Jeep Gladiator pickup truck on Archwood, three blocks east of where Phillips died, and transferred all of his weapons and ammunition from the getaway car into the truck. However, sources say Mătăsăreanu was unable to start the truck, because the driver had turned the vehicle and fuel pumps off, leaving the keys in the ignition while others say that it was because the driver had taken the keys with him after fleeing the car. As KCBS and KCAL helicopters hovered overhead, a patrol car driven by SWAT officers quickly arrived. Mătăsăreanu left the truck, took cover behind the original getaway car, and engaged them for 2 1/2 minutes of almost uninterrupted gunfire. Mătăsăreanu's chest armor deflected a double tap from one of the SWAT officers, but it briefly winded him. After several seconds he continued firing. At least one SWAT officer fired his AR-15 below the cars and wounded Mătăsăreanu in his unprotected lower legs; he was soon unable to continue and put his hands up to show surrender. Seconds after his defeat, officers swarmed him to pin him down. As he was being cuffed, SWAT officers asked for his name, to which he replied "Pete". When asked if there were any more suspects, he reportedly retorted "Fuck you! Shoot me in the head!". The police radioed for an ambulance, but Mătăsăreanu, loudly swearing profusely and still goading the police to shoot him, died before the ambulance could reach the scene almost seventy minutes later. Later reports showed that Mătăsăreanu was shot over 20 times in the legs and died from trauma due to excessive blood loss coming from 2 gunshot wounds in his left thigh.
Most of the incident, including the death of Phillips and the death of Mătăsăreanu, was broadcast live by news helicopters, which hovered over the scene and televised the action as events unfolded. Over 300 law enforcement officers from various forces had responded to the city-wide TAC alert. By the time the shooting had stopped, Phillips and Mătăsăreanu had fired about 1,100 rounds, approximately a round every two seconds.
Aftermath and controversy
An inventory of the weapons used:
- An AR-15 converted to fire automatically with two 100-round Beta Magazines
- A semi automatic HK-91 rifle with several 30-round magazines
- A Beretta 92FS Inox with several magazines
- Three different civilian-model AK-47 rifles converted to fire in fully automatic mode with several 75 to 100-round drum magazines, as well as 30 round box magazines.
It was speculated that Phillips had legally purchased two of the AK-47s and then illegally converted them to full automatic. However, as Phillips was a convicted felon it was not possible for him to legally purchase firearms.
The two well-armored men had fired approximately 1,100 rounds, while approximately 650 rounds were fired by police. The responding patrol officers directed their fire at the "center of mass," or torsos, of Mătăsăreanu and Phillips. However, aramid body armor worn by Phillips and Mătăsăreanu covered all of their vitals (except their heads) while providing more bullet resistance than standard-issue police Kevlar vests, enabling them to deflect pistol bullets and shotgun pellets, while Mătăsăreanu's chest armor even successfully withstood a hit from a SWAT operator's AR-15. Each man was shot and penetrated by at least ten bullets, yet both were able to continue shooting. The ineffectiveness of the standard police patrol weaponry in penetrating the robbers' body armor led to a trend in the United States toward arming selected police patrol officers with semi-automatic 5.56 mm AR-15 type rifles. Seven months after the incident, the Department of Defense gave 600 surplus M16s to the LAPD, which were issued to each patrol sergeant; other cities, such as Miami, also moved to supply patrol officers, not just SWAT teams, with heavier firepower. LAPD patrol vehicles now carry AR-15s as standard issue, with bullet-resistant Kevlar plating in their doors as well. Also as a result of this incident LAPD authorized its officers to carry .45 ACP caliber semiautomatic pistols as duty sidearms, specifically the Smith and Wesson Models 4506 and 4566. Prior to 1997, only LAPD SWAT officers were authorized to carry .45 ACP caliber pistols, specifically the Model 1911A1 .45 ACP semiautomatic pistol.
The LAPD did not allow Mătăsăreanu to receive medical attention, stating that ambulance personnel were following standard procedure in hostile situations by refusing to enter "the hot zone," as Mătăsăreanu was still considered to be dangerous, plus there were still reports and/or the belief that there was a third gunman still loose. Some reports indicate that he was lying on the ground with no weapons for approximately an hour before ambulances arrived, and was groaning in pain and pleading for help. A lawsuit on behalf of Mătăsăreanu's children was filed against members of the LAPD, claiming that Mătăsăreanu's civil rights had been violated and that he was allowed to bleed to death. The lawsuit was tried in United States District Court in February and March 2000, and ended in a mistrial with a hung jury. The suit was later dropped when Mătăsăreanu's family agreed to dismiss the action with a waiver of malicious prosecution.
The year following the shootout, 19 officers of the LAPD received the departmental Medal of Valor for their actions, and met President Bill Clinton. In 2003, a film about the incident was produced, titled 44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out. In 2004, the Los Angeles Police Historical Society Museum in Highland Park opened an exhibit featuring two life-size mannequins of Phillips and Mătăsăreanu fitted with the armor and clothing they wore and the weaponry they used. Also on display at the museum is the robber's getaway car and Officer Martin Whitfield's LAPD squad car.
- 44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out – the film based on this event
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- The North Hollywood Shootout - Google Earth placemarks for the North Hollywood Shooting. (Requires Google Earth)