North Hollywood shootout
|North Hollywood shootout|
Larry Phillips, Jr. (left) and Emil Mătăsăreanu (right)
|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, gunfight|
|Weapons||Automatic assault rifles, shotguns, pistols|
|Deaths||2 (both of the perpetrators):
Mătăsăreanu: blood loss
|Perpetrators||Larry Eugene Phillips Jr
Emil Decebal Mătăsăreanu
The North Hollywood shootout, sometimes also called the Battle of North Hollywood, 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 approximately 1,750 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 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 illegally-modified automatic weapons chambered with intermediate cartridges for control and entry past 'bullet-proof' security doors, and are possible suspects in two armored vehicle robberies.
Standard issue sidearms carried by most local patrol officers at the time were 9 mm pistols or .38 Special revolvers; some patrol cars also were equipped with a 12-gauge shotgun. Phillips and Mătăsăreanu carried illegally-modified fully automatic Norinco Type 56 S-1s (an AK-47-style weapon), a Bushmaster XM15 Dissipator, and a HK-91 rifle with high capacity drum magazines and centerfire rifles which are all generally capable of penetrating vehicles and police Kevlar vests. The bank robbers wore heavy plate mostly homemade body armor which successfully protected them from handgun rounds and shotgun pellets fired by the responding patrolmen. A police SWAT team eventually arrived bearing sufficient firepower, and they commandeered an armored truck to evacuate the wounded. Several officers also appropriated AR-15 and other semi-automatic rifles from a nearby firearms dealer. The incident sparked debate on the need for patrol officers to upgrade their firepower in preparation for 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. The two men had fired approximately 1,100 rounds, while approximately 650 rounds were fired by police.
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. Before meeting, Phillips was a habitual offender, responsible for multiple real estate scams and counts of shoplifting. Mătăsăreanu was a qualified electrical engineer and ran a relatively unsuccessful computer repair business.
On July 20, 1993 the pair robbed an armored car outside 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, except for the confiscated firearms.
On June 14, 1995, the pair ambushed a Brinks armored car in Winnetka, killing one guard, Herman Cook, and seriously wounding another. 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 two Norinco Type 56 S rifles (which they had illegally converted to fully automatic), an illegally-converted fully automatic Norinco Type 56 S-1, a semi automatic HK-91, an illegally-converted fully automatic Bushmaster (M16) XM15 Dissipator, and approximately 3,300 rounds of ammunition in box and drum magazines into the trunk of their vehicle.
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 homemade 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, the police response time they had estimated. To come up with this timeframe, Phillips had used a radio scanner to monitor police transmissions prior to the robbery. But as the two were walking in, they were spotted by two LAPD officers, Loren Farrell and Martin Perello, who were driving down Laurel Canyon in a patrol car. Officer Perello issued a call 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 in an attempt to scare the approximately thirty bank staff and customers and to discourage resistance. Mătăsăreanu shot open the bulletproof door (it was designed to resist only small-caliber rounds) and gained access to the tellers and vault. The robbers forced assistant manager John Villigrana to open the vault. Villigrana obliged and began to fill the robbers' money bag. However, due to a change in the bank's delivery schedule, the vault contained significantly less than the $750,000 the gunmen had expected. Mătăsăreanu, seemingly enraged at this development, argued with Villigrana and demanded more. In an apparent show of frustration, Mătăsăreanu then fired a full drum magazine of 75 rounds into the bank's safe, destroying much of the remaining money. In the end, the two would leave with $303,305.
Outside, the first-responding officers heard gunfire from the bank and made another radio call for additional units before taking cover behind their patrol car, weapons trained on the bank doors. While the robbers were still inside, more patrol and detective units arrived and took strategic positions at all four corners of the bank, effectively surrounding it. At approximately 9:32 AM, Phillips exited through the north doorway and briefly looked around, possibly to survey the positions of police. Officers shouted repeatedly for Phillips to drop his weapon and surrender, but he turned around and walked back inside. Several minutes later, he reemerged from the north doorway, while Mătăsăreanu exited through the south.
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, Beretta 92FS 9mm pistols and Smith & Wesson Model 15 .38 caliber revolvers, while officers including James Zaboravan also carried a 12-gauge Ithaca Model 37 pump-action shotgun. The officers' weaponry could not penetrate aramid body armor worn by Phillips and Mătăsăreanu, which covered most 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 poor accuracy at long distances. Additionally, the officers were pinned down by the heavy spray of gunfire coming from the robbers, making it difficult to attempt a headshot.
Numerous 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 and SWAT commanders would use the live coverage to pass critical, time-sensitive information to officers on the ground. Mătăsăreanu urged 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 passenger's side of the 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 arrived 18 minutes after the shooting had begun. They were armed with AR-15s, and wore running shoes and shorts under their body armor, as they had been on an exercise run when they received the call. Upon arrival, they commandeered a nearby armored truck, which was used to extract wounded civilians and officers from the scene.
Deaths of the gunmen
At 9:52, Phillips, who had been using the getaway vehicle as cover, separated from Mătăsăreanu. Turning east on Archwood Street, he took cover behind a parked truck and continued to fire at the police until his rifle jammed. He attempted to clear the jam but ultimately discarded the weapon, drew a Beretta 92FS pistol, and continued firing at police. He was then shot in the right hand, causing him to drop the pistol. After retrieving it, he placed the muzzle under his chin and fired. As his body fell, a bullet struck the back of his neck, severing his spine. Officers across the street continued to shoot Phillips several times while he was on the ground. After the firing had stopped, officers in the area surrounded Phillips, cuffed him, and removed his ski mask.
Mătăsăreanu's vehicle was rendered 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, some sources said Mătăsăreanu was unable to start the truck because although the fleeing driver had left the keys in the ignition, he had shut the fuel pump off by means of a manual kill switch. Others reported 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 two-and-a-half 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 and EMTs were allowed to 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 two 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 during news reports 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 officer's AR-15. The service pistols carried by the first responding officers had insufficient range and relatively poor accuracy, and additionally they were pinned down by the robbers' high rate of fire, making it difficult to attempt a headshot. Each robber was shot and penetrated by at least ten bullets, yet both were able to continue shooting.
The ineffectiveness of the standard police patrol pistols and shotguns in penetrating the robbers' body armor led to a trend in the United States (including cities such as Miami) toward arming selected police patrol officers, not just SWAT teams, with heavier firepower such as semi-automatic 5.56 mm AR-15 type rifles. SWAT teams, whose close quarters battle weaponry usually consisted of submachine guns that fired pistol cartridges such as the Heckler & Koch MP5, began supplementing them with AR-15-rifles and carbines. Seven months after the incident, the Department of Defense gave 600 surplus M16s to the LAPD, which were issued to each patrol sergeant; 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 & 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, and because 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, entitled 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.
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