Monday, February 28, 2011
North Hollywood Shootout 1997
The North Hollywood shootout was an armed confrontation between two heavily armed bank robbers and officers of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in the North Hollywood district of Los Angeles on February 28, 1997. Both perpetrators 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 perpetrators and the police.
At approximately 9:30 am, Larry Phillips, Jr. and Emil Mătăsăreanu entered and robbed the North Hollywood Bank of America branch. Phillips and Mătăsăreanu were confronted by dozens of 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. In addition to the two perpetrators, eleven officers and seven civilians sustained injuries. Phillips and Mătăsăreanu had robbed several armored vehicles prior to their attempt in North Hollywood and were notorious for their heavy armament, which included automatic rifles.
Local patrol officers at the time were typically armed with 9 mm or .38 Special pistols on their person, with some having a 12-gauge shotgun available in their cars. Phillips and Mătăsăreanu carried fully automatic rifles, with ammunition capable of penetrating police body armor, and wore military grade body armor of their own. Since the police handguns could not penetrate the bank robbers' body armor, the patrol officers' efforts were ineffective. SWAT eventually arrived with weapons that could penetrate and several officers also appropriated AR-15 rifles from a nearby firearms dealer. The incident sparked debate on the appropriate firepower for patrol officers to have available in similar situations in the future. Due to the large amount of casualties, rounds fired, weapons used and overall length of the shootout, it is regarded as the longest and bloodiest event in US police history.
Larry Eugene Phillips, Jr. (born September 20, 1970) and Emil Decebal Mătăsăreanu (born July 19, 1966) first met at Gold's Gym in Venice, Los Angeles, California in 1989. They had a mutual interest in weightlifting and bodybuilding. Phillips imported steel-core ammunition for his illegally modified assault rifles, and acquired Aramid body armor.
On July 20, 1993 the pair robbed an armored car outside of a branch of FirstBank in Littleton, Colorado. 
In October 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 7.62x39mm rifle ammunition, 1,200 rounds of 9x19mm 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 100 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 San Fernando, stealing approximately US$1.5 million. Phillips and Mătăsăreanu were dubbed the "High Incident Bandits" by investigators due to the heavy weaponry they had used in three robberies prior to their attempt in North Hollywood.
Larry Phillips, Jr. (left) and Emil Mătăsăreanu (right) engaged LAPD officers in a firefight after robbing a branch of Bank of America.On the morning of Feb. 28, 1997, after months of preparation, including extensive reconnoitering of their intended target—the Bank of America branch on 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 modified Romanian AIMS assault rifles, an AK-47 style rifle, and one modified Norinco Type 56 S-1, a semi automatic HK91 and a modified Bushmaster XM15 E2S. Phillips carried one 9mm Beretta Model 92F INOX. They wore their 18 kilogram full-suit body armor, which Phillips had painstakingly stitched together, as well as metal trauma plates to protect vital organs, and they took the barbiturate phenobarbital to calm their nerves.
Phillips and Mătăsăreanu, driving a white Chevrolet Celebrity, arrived at the Bank of America branch office at the intersection of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Archwood Street in North Hollywood around 9:30 a.m., and set their watch alarms for 8 minutes, which was the length of time they estimated it would take law enforcement officials to respond. Phillips had been using a radio scanner to listen to police transmissions to determine this timeframe. However, as they walked into the bank they were spotted by officers in an LAPD patrol car driving down Laurel Canyon, and the officers radioed in a possible 211, code for an armed robbery.
Inside the bank, Phillips and Mătăsăreanu forced the assistant manager to open the vault after firing at least 50 rounds to scare the approximately 30 bank staff and customers and to discourage resistance. Phillips, enraged at the fact that only small amounts of money were in the safe, argued with the assistant manager, demanding more. In another burst of anger, Phillips reportedly fired a full box magazine into the bank's safe, destroying the rest of the money. They were only able to get $303,305, instead of the expected $750,000 because the bank had altered the delivery schedule.
At 9:38 a.m. Phillips exited the bank through its north doorway and Mătăsăreanu through its south doorway. Both encountered dozens of LAPD patrol officers, who had arrived after the first-responding officers radioed a "shots fired" call. Television news helicopters responding to the "shots fired" LAPD dispatch arrived minutes later, and, despite being shot at by the gunmen, broadcast throughout. SWAT commanders used the live helicopter broadcasts to pass critical, time-sensitive information to the officers on the scene.
Phillips and Mătăsăreanu engaged the officers, firing armor-piercing rounds into the patrol cars that had been positioned on Laurel Canyon in front of the bank. The patrol officers were armed with standard Beretta 92-type 9mm pistols and .38 caliber revolvers, and one also carried 12-gauge pump-action shotguns, but the body armor worn by Phillips and Mătăsăreanu was strong enough to resist penetration. 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; Phillips remained outside the vehicle and continued firing on officers and helicopters with a HK91. Footage shows that a police officer's bullet almost struck Phillips in the upper body at that point, however he quickly ducked behind the car, dodging it. Phillips fired at least 50 to 100 rounds from the HK91. After a couple of minutes he reslung it and switched back to the AKM. A tactical alert was issued, and 18 minutes after the shooting had begun, a SWAT team armed with MP-5s and AR-15s arrived. They 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. Officers then commandeered an armored cash-delivery truck, which they used to extract wounded civilians and officers from the raging battle scene.
At 9:51 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 with his AKM. He reloaded the assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine, but the gun suffered a malfunction. He promptly discarded the AKM rather than removing the shell casing that had caused the "stovepipe" malfunction due to an officer's bullet penetrating his wrist bone, that had deflected from the gun's casing through his thumb and finally into the wrist. He drew a Beretta 92FS "INOX" (Silver) pistol and continued firing at police. He was then shot in the right hand again, briefly dropped the pistol, retrieved it, and placed the muzzle of his pistol under his chin and shot himself; a round from a police officer's AR-15 simultaneously severed his spine. After the firing stopped, officers in the area surrounded Phillips, stripped him of his armor and cuffed him. Due to a large amount of bleeding coming from his AR-15 shoulder wound, police tried to prevent it by wrapping the body sheet over it. However, unbeknownst to the officers at the time, Phillips died of his self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Mătăsăreanu's vehicle was rendered nearly inoperable after its tires were shot out. At 9:56 he attempted to carjack a pickup truck on Archwood, three blocks east of where Phillips died, and transferred all of his weapons and ammunition from the getaway car to the truck. However, Mătăsăreanu was unable to start the truck since the fleeing owner had taken the keys. 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 in a six-minute gun battle. At least one SWAT officer fired his M16 rifle below the cars and wounded Mătăsăreanu in his unprotected lower legs; he was soon unable to continue and desperately put his hands up twice to show surrender. The police radioed for an ambulance, but Mătăsăreanu, cursing, died before the ambulance reached the scene almost seventy minutes later. Later reports showed that Mătăsăreanu was shot 29 times in the shins and feet and died from trauma due to loss of blood.
Most of the incident, including the death of Phillips and the capture 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 1,300 rounds, approximately a round every 2 seconds.
Aftermath and controversy
Mătăsăreanu and Phillips were firing fully automatic rifles loaded with armor-piercing ammunition. The robbers were protected by body armor which could not be penetrated by the officers' handgun and shotgun ammunition. While Phillips was shot in the hand and shortly afterward committed suicide, a SWAT officer reported during the final gunfire exchange that his M16 rounds could not penetrate Mătăsăreanu's armor suggesting that the outcome could have been different had both robbers been wearing leg protection.
The ineffectiveness of the pistol rounds and shotgun pellets 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.
In this case, approximately 650 rounds were fired at two heavily armed and very heavily armored men, who had fired 1,101 rounds. The responding police officers directed their fire at the "center of mass," or torsos, of Mătăsăreanu and Phillips. Each man was shot and penetrated by at least ten bullets, yet both continued to attack officers.
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. Some reports indicate that he was lying on the pavement with no weapons for approximately an hour before ambulances arrived. A lawsuit on behalf of Mătăsăreanu's offspring 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 the jury deadlocked. 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 Department Museum opened an exhibit featuring two life-size mannequins of Phillips and Mătăsăreanu fitted with the armor they wore and the weaponry they used.
The actual getaway vehicle and some of the LAPD patrol cars involved in the shootout are now on display at the Los Angeles Police Historical Society Museum in Highland Park.
It has been speculated that the perpetrators were heavily influenced by the Michael Mann film Heat which had been released two years earlier in 1995. In the movie, several men battle their way out of a bank robbery using firepower with a ruthless attitude. There have been some reports that a VHS copy of the movie was found in the VCR in the home of one of the gunmen. However, this has never been confirmed. It is also believed that Phillips was inspired to purchase the HK91 Marksman Rifle because of the film as well. In the film, a HK91 is briefly used in a gun battle. Some speculate that the perpetrators had planned the shootout, wanting the police and SWAT to arrive in order to gain media attention.
The shoot-out also featured in the very first episode of the National Geographic docudrama TV series "Situation Critical."
1.^ Macko, Steve. "Los Angeles Turned Into a War Zone". http://emernet.emergency.com/lapdbank.htm. Retrieved 2007-10-08.
2.^ Shootout!; The History Channel; Viewed July 8, 2008.
3.^ Cynthia Fuchs (2003-06-01). "44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shootout". PopMatters.
4.^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; Robinson, 10.
6.^ Robinson, 3.
7.^ Rehder and Dillow, 255–256; Robinson, 4–5.
8.^ Robinson, 11–12.
9.^ Rehder and Dillow, 257.
10.^ Rehder and Dillow, 257; Robinson, 12.
11.^ Rehder and Dillow, 258–259; Robinson, 12.
12.^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out".
13.^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; Shootout!, "North Hollywood Shootout".
14.^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; Robinson, 13.
15.^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; Hays and Sjoquist, 124.
16.^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; Stunned police, residents cope with aftermath.
17.^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; LAPD Shoot-Out With Bank Robbers.
18.^ LAPD Shoot-Out With Bank Robbers.
19.^ Prengaman, 1; Shootout!, "North Hollywood Shootout".
20.^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; LAPD Shoot-Out With Bank Robbers.
21.^ Hays and Sjoquist, 124; Shootout!, "North Hollywood Shootout".
22.^ "Botched L.A. bank heist turns into bloody shootout". CNN. http://www.cnn.com/US/9702/28/shootout.update/. Retrieved 2007-10-25.
23.^ "North Hollywood Shootout". Archived from the original on 2007-10-09.
24.^ LAPD gets M-16s.
25.^ LAPD gets M16s; LAPD museum showcases department's good, bad, ugly.
26.^ Prengaman, 2.
27.^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; Jury Unsure If Cops Let Shooter Die.
28.^ Lawsuit accuses L.A. police of letting wounded gunman die; Prengaman, 2.
29.^ Jury Unsure If Cops Let Shooter Die; Mistrial Declared in Case Stemming From Shootout.
30.^ Law Offices of Goldberg and Gage, North Hollywood Shootout.
31.^ 1998 Medal of Valor Recipients.
32.^ Prengaman, 3.
33.^ Dalton, 2–3; LAPD museum showcases department's good, bad, ugly.
34.^ Hernandez, Daniel NORTH HOLLYWOOD BIZARRO.
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