In an environment in which it seems that officer safety is top of mind – or should be – the scene that unfolded Saturday night, September 26 at a relatively quiet LAPD community substation, in which a veteran officer had his service weapon taken away by a suspect who’d waltzed right into the station and then was pistol-whipped and knocked unconscious before backup arrived, seems impossible.
At LAPD’s Harbor Community Police Station, despite the fact that a woman drove right into the lobby in February 2019 and nearly into the desk*, despite the fact that police officers in the county have been ambushed and shot at, and despite the fact that the county’s public health officers are still in full coronavirus freakout mode (having even accused LAPD officers of infecting “peaceful protesters” over the summer), there is no barrier between members of the public and desk officers.
On that Saturday night, Jose Cerpa Guzman “was looking to hurt an officer,” according to Craig Lally of the LA Police Protective League (LAPPL). Normally the door to the lobby is locked, sources familiar with the investigation told RedState, but a couple of detectives had just left the station and the door was still open, giving Guzman an opening.
According to a video of the incident, Guzman ambled toward the desk, seeming agitated.
9/27/20 Los Angeles | Video of attack on LAPD officer inside Harbor Division station.
29 year old man arrested for taking officer’s gun, pistol-whipping him, then pointing gun at officer’s chest & pulling the trigger. Gun safety preventing gun from firing.
Credit: LA Times pic.twitter.com/8rY2KW6crB
— Liz Jones (@LizJone26271417) September 29, 2020
The 37-year veteran officer working the desk saw the man approach the door, and proactively got up to make contact and ask if he could help the man and, if not, send him on his way.
Two officers are usually assigned to the desk, but the partner was upstairs for some reason. Usually, an officer wouldn’t get out from behind the desk and make contact with a citizen walking in without letting someone know. Sources familiar with what the investigation had uncovered so far weren’t able to say why the officer didn’t let someone know, or even that he hadn’t let someone know.
At first, Guzman seems to comply and head out the door. The officer stands at the door, which is still open, watching Guzman leave. Guzman quickly returns to the door, charging the officer and slapping him in the head. A scuffle ensues, and the officer falls to the floor after Guzman punches him in the head. At that time, the gun falls out of the officer’s belt and Guzman picks it up and hits the officer in the face.
According to sources, the officer’s weapon was a 9mm Beretta equipped with a decocker. When the lever is down and the trigger is pressed, nothing happens. The Los Angeles Times reported that there was a clicking sound, but multiple officers and firearms experts familiar with Berettas with decockers say that it would be “a spongy trigger,” and would not make clicking noises.
According to the L.A. Times:
Two law enforcement sources with knowledge of the incident said investigators believe that Guzman tried to shoot the officer in the chest, stomach and chin but the gun’s decocking lever prevented it from firing.
“The officer would have been dead if it had not,” said one LAPD official familiar with the investigation but not authorized to discuss the attack.
Frustrated, Guzman apparently thought the gun wasn’t loaded and tried racking it; as a result, live rounds fell out. Around that time the watch commander shouted something after hearing the commotion; the disturbance seemed to have stunned Guzman, who got up and ran away. When the watch commander gave chase, Guzman turned around and shot at her. The original desk officer’s partner then returned, and the two radioed for help in apprehending Guzman.
According to sources, Guzman got into a pickup truck accompanied by another male and drove away, but both were apprehended after a brief scuffle. Guzman was charged with two counts each of attempted murder and assault with a semiautomatic firearm, along with one count each of second-degree robbery, evading and resisting an officer, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Officer safety within the station has been an ongoing concern among LAPD officers. Six years ago a man walked into the lobby of LAPD’s Wilshire station and opened fire, hitting two officers:
Daniel Yealu, 29, is accused of walking into the lobby around 8:30 p.m. on April 7 saying he had a complaint and opened fire. Two officers returned fire.
One officer was hit several times and survived the shooting, despite not wearing a bulletproof vest. Yealu was shot several times and remains hospitalized in critical condition.
After that incident, then-Chief Charlie Beck tweeted:
— Chief Charlie Beck (@LAPDChiefBeck) April 18, 2014
Despite that “reassessment,” front desks at some LAPD stations don’t include even the type of security a cashier at a gas station in a sketchy neighborhood enjoys – as the video from the Harbor station clearly shows. Now that the Los Angeles City Council is set to “defund” the LAPD even as continued “protests” and riots necessitate overtime, it doesn’t look like there will be funding to protect LAPD’s officers in the near term. But they’ll receive a “thoughts and prayers” tweet from their chief should they be attacked on the job.
Tonight we pray for these two guardians to survive. I recognize and acknowledge we live in troubled times. But we must as a community work thru our differences while loudly and resoundly condemn violence. Blessed are the Peacemakers. https://t.co/BKMG4xHNOF
— Chief Michel Moore (@LAPDChiefMoore) September 13, 2020
— KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO (@KNX1070) February 11, 2019