SWAT officer fatally shot in Calif. shootout

By Richard Winton and Molly Hennessy-Fiske
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

Officer Down: Police Officer Randal (Randy) Simmons
Related: Slain SWAT officer took duty to heart

LOS ANGELES — In a tense overnight standoff, a man shot and killed one Los Angeles Police Department SWAT officer and seriously wounded another after he called 911 reporting that he had killed three members of his family at a Winnetka home, authorities said. The suspect was found dead in the home almost 12 hours after the standoff began, an assistant police chief said.

More than seven hours after the 12:30 a.m. attack on police, the suspect was seen moving in the house despite repeated gas canisters being fired into the home, police sources said. Police officials said it remained unclear how many people inside the home were dead or even how many people were there at the time the standoff began.

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About 200 officers swarmed the scene this morning, and smoke billowed from the home, and what appeared to be a body was visible on the lawn.

Officer Randal Simmons, a veteran of the unit, was shot in the head and killed as SWAT officers broke through the front door of the home in the 19800 block of Welby Way, police said.

The decision to go into the home came more than three hours after the initial 9 p.m. 911 call, when officers at the scene determined that there may have still been people in distress inside, said assistant police Chief Jim McDonnell.

SWAT officers broke through the front door and exchanged fire with the suspect, who also wounded Officer James Veenstra, a veteran member of the tactical team who was cited for valor in 1997 for his actions at the scene of a shooting that left a Glendale police detective dead.

Simmons' death is the first in the 27-year history of the SWAT unit, McDonnell said. The Special Weapons and Tactics Unit, created in the 1960s to deal with especially dangerous situations, handles about 100 barricaded suspect incidents and 120 high-risk warrants each year.

Simmons and Veenstra were rushed to Northridge Medical Center, where Simmons died just after 1 a.m, officials said.

"It's a sad day in the city of Los Angeles to have lost an officer," said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Veenstra was undergoing surgery at 5 a.m. and was expected to survive, McDonnell said at a news conference this morning. Both officers had been with the SWAT unit for more than 20 years.

On blocked-off streets surrounding the standoff scene, detectives in long trench coats huddled shortly after sunrise.

Joel Jones, 39, an operational engineer who lives behind the home, said he believed an elderly Latino woman lived there alone for as long as he has lived in the neighborhood. He used to give her peppers from his yard, Jones said.

Jones said police came banging on his door around 10:30 p.m., while his sons, 6 and 12, were asleep, telling him his family needed to evacuate.

Shortly afterward, Jones said, he heard four or five bangs that sounded like flash grenades and smelled gas.

This morning, police cars, many of them unmarked, were double-parked along two blocks of Vanowen street.

At least three fire trucks and police emergency response team vehicles were at the intersection of Vanowen and Oakdale streets.

Levon Keshishian, director of business operations at nearby Agbu High School, said his school was shut down for the day, one of numerous closures in the area; he wanted to make sure all parents and students turned back.

"My immediate interest is not to have any parents or students come to the school," Keshishian said.

Copyright 2008 The Los Angeles Times

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