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North Hollywood shootout
Location North Hollywood, California, USA
Date February 28, 1997
9:17 a.m. – 10:01 a.m. (UTC-8)
Target A branch of Bank of America.
Attack type Bank robbery
Weapon(s) three AIM rifles, two 9 mm Beretta 92Fs, 1 HK-91, 1 AR-15
Death(s) 2 (both perpetrators)
Injured 17[1]
Perpetrator(s) Larry Eugene Phillips, Jr.
Emil Decebal Matasareanu
Defender(s) Los Angeles Police Department
SWAT

The North Hollywood shootout was an armed confrontation between two heavily-armed bank robbers, Larry Phillips, Jr. and Emil Matasareanu, and patrol and SWAT officers of the Los Angeles Police Department in North Hollywood, California on February 28, 1997. It happened when responding patrol officers engaged Phillips, 26 [2] and Matasareanu, 30 [3] leaving a bank which the two men had just robbed. Ten officers and seven civilians sustained injuries before both robbers were killed.[4] Phillips and Matasareanu 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 Matasareanu 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 several 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.[5]

Contents

Backgrounds

Larry Eugene Phillips, Jr. (born 20 September 1970) and Emil Decebal Mătăsăreanu (born 19 July 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.[6]

In October 1993, Phillips and Matasareanu were arrested in Glendale, northeast of Los Angeles, California, for speeding.[7] A subsequent search of their vehicle—after Phillips surrendered with a concealed weapon—found two semi-automatic rifles, two handguns, over 1,600 rounds of 7.62x39mm rifle ammunition, over 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.[8] Initially charged with conspiracy to commit robbery,[9] neither of them served more than 100 days in jail, though each was put on three years' probation.[10] After their release, most of their seized property was returned to them.[11]

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.[12] Phillips and Matasareanu were dubbed the "High Incident Bandits" by investigators due to the heavy weaponry they had used in three bank robberies prior to their attempt in North Hollywood.[13]

The shootout

Larry Phillips, Jr. (left) and Emil Matasareanu (right) engaged LAPD officers in a firefight after robbing a branch of Bank of America.

On the morning of February 28, 1997, after months of preparation, including extensive reconnoitering of their intended target—the Bank of America branch on Laurel Canyon Boulevard—Phillips and Matasareanu loaded five illegally modified, fully automatic rifles: three Romanian AIM rifles (an AKM copy), a modified HK91 and an AR-15. They also possessed two 9 mm Beretta 92F pistols, a .38-caliber revolver, and approximately 3,300 rounds of ammunition in box and drum magazines, and made their way from their apartment to the bank in a white Chevrolet Celebrity.[14] They wore their full-suit body armor, as well as metal trauma plates to protect vital organs, and they took the barbiturate phenobarbital to calm their nerves.[15]

Phillips and Matasareanu 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.[15] 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.[16]

Inside the bank, Phillips and Matasareanu forced the assistant manager to open the vault after firing at least 100 rounds to scare the approximately 30 bank staff and customers[4] and to discourage resistance.[17] They were only able to get $303,305, instead of the expected $750,000 because the bank had altered the delivery schedule.[13]

At 9:38 a.m. Phillips exited the bank through its north doorway and Matasareanu through its south doorway. Both encountered dozens of LAPD patrol officers who had arrived after the first-responding officers radioed a "shots fired" call.[18] 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 Matasareanu engaged the officers in a firefight, firing armor-piercing rounds into the patrol cars that had been positioned on Laurel Canyon in front of the bank.[14] The patrol officers were armed with standard Beretta 92-type 9-mm pistols and .38-caliber revolvers, and some also carried 12-gauge pump-action shotguns, but the body armor worn by Phillips and Matasareanu was strong enough to resist penetration.[13] Multiple officers and civilians were wounded in the seven to eight minutes from when the shooting began to when Matasareanu entered the robbers' white sedan to make a getaway; Phillips remained outside the vehicle and continued firing on officers and police and news helicopters with an HK91, which uses a larger cartridge than their modified AK47s. After a couple minutes he reslung it and switched back to the AIM.[13] A tactical alert was issued, and 18 minutes after the shooting had begun, a SWAT team armed with MP-5s and AR-15s arrived. At this point officers commandeered an armored truck which they used to extract wounded civilians and officers.[13]

Scale map of the area around Bank of America ($), final locations of Phillips (P) and Matasareanu (M).
Streets-
A: Laurel Canyon Boulevard - B: Agnes Avenue - C: Ben Avenue - D: Gentry Avenue - E: Radford Avenue - F: Morella Avenue
1: Archwood Street - 2: Lemay Street - 3: Kittridge Street

At 9:51 Phillips, who had been using the getaway vehicle as cover, split up with Matasareanu, turned east on Archwood Street, and continued to fire at the police with his AIM.[19] He reloaded the assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine, but the gun jammed. He promptly discarded the AIM rather than removing the shell casing that had caused the "stovepipe" malfunction.[13] He drew a Beretta 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; a round from a police officer's AR-15 simultaneously severed his spine. After Phillips fell to the ground, a police officer shot him again to make sure he was down and out.[20]

Matasareanu's vehicle was rendered nearly inoperable after its tires were shot out.[13] 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.[21] However, Matasareanu was unable to start the truck since the fleeing owner had taken the keys.[13] As KCBS and KCAL helicopters hovered overhead, a patrol car driven by SWAT officers quickly arrived. Matasareanu 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 Matasareanu in his unprotected lower legs; he was soon unable to continue.[13] The police radioed for an ambulance, but Matasareanu, cursing, succumbed to his wounds before the ambulance reached the scene.

Most of the incident, including the death of Phillips and the capture of Matasareanu, was broadcast live by news helicopters, which hovered over the scene and televised the action as events unfolded.[14] Over 300 law enforcement officers from various forces had responded to the city-wide TAC alert.[22] By the time the shooting had stopped, Phillips and Matasareanu had fired about 1,300 rounds.[13]

Aftermath and controversy

The illegally-modified automatic AR-15 with a drum magazine, shortened barrel and retractable stock used by Matasareanu, photographed at the location where he was shot down. The dark item in the background marked "25" is the mask that he wore.

Phillips and Matasareanu were firing fully automatic rifles loaded with armor-piercing ammunition.[23][24][13] 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 Matasareanu's armor (due to the trauma plates),[citation needed] suggesting that the outcome could have been different had both robbers been wearing leg protection.[13] The homemade body armor was heavy, reportedly weighing 18 kilograms, as heavy as 5 bowling balls,[citation needed] and limited the robbers' mobility.

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.[13] Seven months after the incident, The Pentagon gave 600 surplus M16s to the LAPD, which were issued to each patrol sergeant;[25] other cities, such as Miami, also moved to supply patrol officers, not just SWAT teams, with heavier firepower.[26] LAPD patrol vehicles now carry AR-15s as standard issue, with bullet-resistant Kevlar plating in their doors as well.[27]

In this case, approximately 650 rounds were fired at two heavily armed and heavily armored men, who had fired 1,100 rounds.[4] The responding police officers directed their fire at the "center mass" or torsos of Matasareanu and Phillips. Each man was shot and penetrated by at least ten bullets, yet both continued to attack officers.

The LAPD was later criticized[citation needed] for not allowing Matasareanu to receive medical attention, to which the department responded by stating that ambulance personnel were following standard procedure in hostile situations by refusing to enter "the hot zone," as Matasareanu was still considered to be dangerous.[13] Some reports indicate that he was lying on the pavement with no weapons for approximately an hour before ambulances arrived.[28] A lawsuit on behalf of Matasareanu's children was filed against members of the LAPD, claiming that Matasareanu's civil rights had been violated and that he was allowed to bleed to death.[29] The lawsuit was tried in United States District Court in February and March 2000, and ended in a mistrial with the jury deadlocked.[30] The suit was later dropped when Matasareanu's family agreed to dismiss the action with a waiver of malicious prosecution.[31]

The year following the shootout, 19 officers of the LAPD received both the LAPD Medal of Valor and the national Medal of Valor for their actions,[32] and met President Bill Clinton.[33] 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 Matasareanu fitted with the armor they wore and the weaponry they used. Some photographs of Larry Phillips' unmasked body have been released, most of them taken from across the street. [34]

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.

The investigation of the shootout found that the perpetrators were heavily influenced[citation needed] by the Michael Mann film Heat which was released a few years earlier in 1995. In the movie, several men battle their way out of a bank robbery using firepower. There have been some reports that a VHS copy of the movie was found in the VCR in one of the gunmen's home. However, this has never been confirmed.[35]

See also

References

  1. ^ Macko, Steve. "Los Angeles Turned Into a War Zone". http://emernet.emergency.com/lapdbank.htm. Retrieved 2007-10-08. 
  2. ^ "Larry Eugene Phillips, Jr.". BookRags. http://www.bookrags.com/wiki/Larry_Eugene_Phillips%2C_Jr.. 
  3. ^ "Emil Dechebal Matasareanu". BookRags. http://www.bookrags.com/wiki/Emil_Dechebal_Matasareanu. 
  4. ^ a b c Shootout!; The History Channel; Viewed July 8, 2008.
  5. ^ Cynthia Fuchs (2003-06-01). "44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shootout". PopMatters. http://www.popmatters.com/pm/tv/reviews/44893/44-minutes/. Retrieved 2007-09-29. "The legal and cultural fallout of the crime had to do with just how much firepower the cops should be carrying, if outlaws find it so easy to purchase AK-47s at gun shows." 
  6. ^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; Robinson, 10.
  7. ^ Robinson, 3.
  8. ^ Rehder and Dillow, 255–256; Robinson, 4–5.
  9. ^ Robinson, 11–12.
  10. ^ Rehder and Dillow, 257.
  11. ^ Rehder and Dillow, 257; Robinson, 12.
  12. ^ Rehder and Dillow, 258–259; Robinson, 12.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out".
  14. ^ a b c Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; Shootout!, "North Hollywood Shootout".
  15. ^ a b Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; Robinson, 13.
  16. ^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; Hays and Sjoquist, 124.
  17. ^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; Stunned police, residents cope with aftermath.
  18. ^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; LAPD Shoot-Out With Bank Robbers.
  19. ^ LAPD Shoot-Out With Bank Robbers.
  20. ^ Prengaman, 1; Shootout!, "North Hollywood Shootout".
  21. ^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; LAPD Shoot-Out With Bank Robbers.
  22. ^ Hays and Sjoquist, 124; Shootout!, "North Hollywood Shootout".
  23. ^ "Botched L.A. bank heist turns into bloody shootout". CNN. http://www.cnn.com/US/9702/28/shootout.update/. Retrieved 2007-10-25. 
  24. ^ "North Hollywood Shootout". http://www.student.oulu.fi/~hmikkola/shootout.html. Retrieved 2007-10-25. 
  25. ^ LAPD gets M-16s.
  26. ^ LAPD gets M16s; LAPD museum showcases department's good, bad, ugly.
  27. ^ Prengaman, 2.
  28. ^ Critical Situation, "North Hollywood Shoot-out"; Jury Unsure If Cops Let Shooter Die.
  29. ^ Lawsuit accuses L.A. police of letting wounded gunman die; Prengaman, 2.
  30. ^ Jury Unsure If Cops Let Shooter Die; Mistrial Declared in Case Stemming From Shootout.
  31. ^ Law Offices of Goldberg and Gage, North Hollywood Shootout.
  32. ^ 1998 Medal of Valor Recipients.
  33. ^ Prengaman, 3.
  34. ^ Dalton, 2–3; LAPD museum showcases department's good, bad, ugly.
  35. ^ Hernandez, Daniel NORTH HOLLYWOOD BIZARRO.

Sources

Coordinates: 34°11′31″N 118°23′47″W / 34.19194°N 118.39639°W / 34.19194; -118.39639


Simple English

The North Hollywood shootout was a gunfight that happened on February 28, 1997. Emil Matasareanu and Larry Eugene Phillips were the bank robbers, and used AK-47s, an AR-15, an HK-91, and 9 MM pistols. The police could not kill them because of their heavy body armour, which was made out of kevlar. 20 people were wounded, and the only two killed were the robbers.


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