LAPD: Shooting of detective led to bust of gang making 'ghost guns'

Officers found several ghost guns "in various stages of manufacturing," plus two 3D printers, a drill press and ammunition


By Kevin Rector
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — An investigation into the shooting of a Los Angeles police detective last week led investigators to a local gang producing "ghost guns" out of a tattoo parlor, LAPD Chief Michel Moore alleged Tuesday.

Moore said investigators busted the operation Monday night after a 14-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of shooting the detective with one of the homemade weapons early Thursday morning.

After determining the boy had ties to the gang, police were monitoring the area where the gang operates when they observed domestic violence at the tattoo parlor and interceded, Moore told the department's civilian oversight board.

Inside the parlor, the officers discovered several ghost guns — which lack serial numbers and can't be traced — as well as other items used to manufacture them, Moore said.

Moore touted the bust as a significant blow to the proliferation of such weapons and their use in violent crimes across the city.

"We believe that it was a center, or one of the centers, of the sourcing of these firearms," Moore said.

According to the department, members of the Newton Division's gang enforcement detail were in the area of Maple Avenue and Adams Boulevard about 6:35 p.m. when they witnessed a "domestic violence incident" occurring in the open business and intervened, taking the suspect into custody.

While they were arresting the man, the officers saw a 3D printer, a drill press and a gun receiver — which are used to make ghost guns — and drafted a warrant to search the business, the department said.

The warrant was approved, and during the search officers found several ghost guns "in various stages of manufacturing," plus two 3D printers, a drill press, ammunition and an undisclosed amount of cash, the department said.

[RELATED: 5 things to know about ghost guns]

A 39-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of manufacturing firearms, being an ex-convict in possession of a firearm, and domestic violence, the department said. He was not identified.

The 14-year-old boy arrested in the shooting of the officer has not been publicly identified. Police said he was booked on suspicion of attempted murder.

The detective, who also has not been identified, is a 20-year veteran of the force who investigates juvenile crimes, police said. He was driving to work along Central Avenue near 28th Street and the Newton police station when he heard glass shatter on his truck and felt "a sharp pain" to the back of his head, police officials said.

The officer, who was grazed by the bullet, drove to a nearby fire station, where he was treated before being taken to a local hospital, officials said. He was later released.

After the incident, the LAPD set up a perimeter around the scene and officers located the 14-year-old still armed with the ghost gun that they believe was used in the shooting, police alleged.

The bust at the tattoo parlor on Monday night followed the release Friday of a report on ghost guns in which LAPD officials declared the spread of such weapons an "epidemic" in L.A.

The report noted a 400% increase in ghost gun seizures since 2017, and a 300% increase in seizures during the first half of this year compared to the same period last year.

It also found ghost guns were involved in more than 100 violent crimes so far this year, including 24 killings, eight attempted homicides and dozens of assaults and armed robberies.

During the Police Commission meeting, Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher provided additional data on the spread of ghost guns in L.A. this year, saying such guns have been taken off 195 felons who are barred from carrying firearms.

Pitcher said more than 60 assault-style ghost guns have been recovered, but many of those seized by the department this year were handguns. The department expects to recover more than 1,000 additional ghost guns this year compared to last, he said.

"We see ghost guns popping up, popping up, popping up," Pitcher said.

Investigators said they were looking into whether the operation in the tattoo parlor had produced weapons involved in other crimes.

Pitcher said the increase of such weapons on L.A.'s streets is clearly a factor in the increase of violent crime since last year, and that the department is working on producing a new manual to ensure officers know how to identify and process the weapons and those found in possession of them.

He said his detectives also are working to provide City Council members with information about the spread of the weapons in support of a proposed ordinance to ban them in L.A.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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