WEST COVINA >> Dozens of San Gabriel Valley first responders took part in a large-scale active shooter training scenario simulating a terrorist attack on a West Covina shopping mall Sunday.
Six local law enforcement agencies, federal officials and firefighters took part in the mock terror attack at the Plaza West Covina shopping mall, which was held early in the morning, before mall business opened for the day.
“We take the safety of our visitors and our residents very seriously,” West Covina Police Chief David Faulkner said. “There have been several incidents that have happened on the east coast — one happened last week — that certainly have raised our awareness that we need to be prepared. And in my view, we need to be ready for something and hope it never happens, (rather) than to respond to something we weren’t prepared for.”
A blast from a flash-bang grenade intended to simulate a bomb detonation signalled the beginning of the intensive drill at the mall, where three West Covina police officers played the role of heavily armed gunmen bent on creating carnage. Within minutes, the sounds of simulated gunshots echoed through the mall as police engaged the mock terrorists in a gunfight.
Two of the pseudo suspects carried assault rifles, while the third carried a shotgun.
Participating first responders were not told ahead of time what they would be facing in the drill, West Covina police Cpl. Rudy Lopez explained.
“Each officer involved in this has to determine how to best handle the situation,” he said.
Police simultaneously hunted for the gunmen and rescued mock victims who wore makeup to simulate injuries. Some officers carried their standard duty sidearms, while others were armed with rifles.
Patrol officers called in a SWAT team after the attack turned into a hostage situation.
Practicing a technique known as “fast-roping,” West Covina police SWAT members slid down a rope from a hovering Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department helicopter to join in the operation.
The West Covina Police Department’s recently acquired rescue vehicle, a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle acquired from the U.S. Department of Defense, was used to evacuate victims.
After a scenario that lasted about an hour, the three suspects had been killed in shoot-outs with officers. Three civilians had also been killed during the scenario, and many more wounded.
Police officers from West Covina, Covina, Baldwin Park and Irwindale police departments were joined by California Highway Patrol officers, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials, FBI agents, West Covina firefighters and mall security officials in responding to the mock attack, Lopez said. While West Covina has hosted similar training scenarios in the past, Sunday’s training session was their biggest.
About 75 law enforcement officers participated, along with about 60 volunteers playing the part of victims or bystanders, officials said. The volunteers were primarily police Explorers from the West Covina, Glendora and Ontario police departments.
“Whether this incident happens in West Covina, or happens in Irwindale or Covina, we’re familiar with working with each others’ team,” the chief said. “We might be in different uniforms, but in the end, we’re all in one uniform when it comes time to deal with a critical incident.”
After watching the exercise unfold at the mall, West Covina City Councilman Fred Sykes said he approved.
“A place this large, it’s unfathomable for us not to look at what to do in this type of situation,” he said.
The costs and planning associated with massive drill is a wise investment, as it may help save lives down the road, Sykes said.
“This is extremely important for our community,” the councilman said.
Just like in sports, he added, “The battles are won in practice.”
A SWAT team used tear gas early Friday to end a six-hour standoff at a South Whittier home with a man brandishing what ultimately turned out to be a pellet gun, authorities said.
Adam William Samarin, 23, was booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon after he was taken into custody shortly before 3 a.m. at his home in the 9200 block of Laurel Avenue, just north of Mulberry Drive, in an unincorporated county area just south of Whittier, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials and county booking records.
Deputies responded to a report of a family disturbance involving an armed man about 8:45 p.m. Thursday, sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
Samarin had become involved in an argument with his mother, who left the home when he retrieved what appeared to be a rifle, Lt. Eric Smitson said.
Samarin, who was alone at the home when deputies arrived, pointed the rifle at deputies on the ground as well as deputies hovering above in a helicopter before holing up inside the home and refusing orders to come out.
The Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau, or SWAT team, responded to the scene, as well as a sheriff’s K-9 and a crisis negotiator, officials said.
Deputies evacuated neighboring homes and advised others nearby via helicopter loudspeaker to stay inside and lock their doors.
Deputies fired tear gas into the home shortly before 3 a.m., prompting Samarin to jump or fall out a window of the home, Smitson said. He was taken into custody with the help of the K-9.
A pellet rifle and an “airsoft” gun designed to shoot larger, plastic BBs was recovered from the home, Smitson said.
Samarin was treated for dog bites and injuries he suffered while tumbling out of the window before being booked into jail, officials said.
According to county booking records, Samarin was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail pending his initial court appearance, scheduled Tuesday in Downey Superior Court.
- Jason Henry and Brian Day
WHITTIER >> A SWAT team raided the Whittier home of an ex-convict early Friday, recovering guns and drugs, as well as machinery and information related to a massive identity theft scheme, police said.
Ulices Roman Soto, 32, was booked on suspicion of weapon-, drug- and identity-theft related crimes following the raid, Whittier police Officer Bradley White said.
SWAT officers used flash-bang grenades to rouse Soto during the operation, which unfolded about 4 a.m. at the mobile home in which Soto was living to the rear of a home in the 8300 block of College Avenue, White said. Soto was taken into custody without a struggle, he said, and detectives recovered a treasure trove of evidence from the mobile home.
“During the officers’ search, they discovered two firearms, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, methamphetamine, stolen property, (a) credit card embosser, a skimmer, a read/writer device and hundreds of profiles used by criminals to commit fraud,” according tot he police statement.
Soto’s equipment was allegedly being used to create fraudulent credit cards using information stolen from unsuspecting victims, White said.
Police continued working to identify the hundreds of potential identity theft victims, White added. Investigators suspected the information was stolen primarily via car break-ins.
The guns seized from Soto’s home included a .45-caliber pistol and a handgun designed to shoot more-powerful rifle ammunition, White said.
A small plastic baggie of methamphetamine was recovered from Soto’s mobile home, along with a scale, officials said.
White declined to discuss the investigation that led to Soto’s arrest.
He was free on bond from a previous arrest when jailed Friday, according to county booking records.
Deputies assigned to the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Norwalk Station arrested Soto March 10, according to county booking records. Further details of the arrest were not available Friday.
Prosecutors charged him with forgery and receiving stolen property March 12, the same day he was released from custody on bond, county records show.
Los Angeles Superior Court records indicate Soto has a criminal record dating back 13 years.
He was convicted in of possession of drugs for sales and transporting drugs in 2009. Soto was convicted twice of drug possession, as well as of being a convicted felon in possession of a gun in 2006.
Soto was convicted of carrying a loaded firearm, as well as driving on a suspended or revoked license in 2005.
In 2003, he was convicted of driving without a license, according to court records. He was convicted in 2001 of being under the influence of drugs, fighting in public, resisting or obstructing police and a traffic violation.
Soto was being held in lieu of $35,000 bail, according to county booking records.
IRWINDALE — West Covina police arrested two men and fatally shot a pit bull early Wednesday while serving a search warrant to seize guns at the home of a known outlaw motorcycle gang member in Irwindale, authorities said.
“Known, dangerous Vagos outlaw motorcycle gang member” and ex-convict Ralph Rodriguez, 38, of Irwindale was arrested on suspicion of being a felon in possession of firearms, resisting arrest and possession of false identification, according to West Covina police Cpl. Rudy Lopez. He was the person targeted in the search warrant.
Also arrested in the 3:30 a.m. raid at a home in the 4600 block of Nora Avenue was Robert Ghiloni, 28, of West Covina on suspicion of possession of a dagger, resisting arrest and an outstanding traffic warrant, Lopez said.
The arrests were the result of an ongoing investigation by the West Covina Police Department, officials said.
After arriving at the home and ordering the occupants out via loudspeaker repeatedly, Ghiloni eventually emerged from the home and was taken into custody, Lopez said. He had a dagger on his person.
But Rodriguez remained holed-up inside the home, police said.
“After two hours of repeated announcements, SWAT then initiated an entry into the residence,” according to Lopez. “During the search, (Rodriguez) was located hiding in the attic. He surrendered to officers without further incident.
While serving the warrant, SWAT officers encountered a pit bull, which Lopez said became aggressive toward them.
“The dog began to attack, forcing officers to fire upon it,” he said. “The dog died as a result.”
The number and type of guns sized from the home was not available late Wednesday.
According to Los Angeles County booking records, Rodriguez was being held in lieu of $30,000 bail pending a scheduled arraignment Friday in West Covina Superior Court. Ghiloni was being held in lieu of $10,995 pending his arraignment, also scheduled Friday in West Covina Superior Court.
UPDATE: The suspect surrendered to police about 7:45 p.m., per Azusa police Lt. Tim Harrington. He was taken to a hospital to be examined and was expected to face charges of felony vandalism and resisting arrest.
AZUSA — A SWAT team responded to an Azusa motel Saturday after a man with a history of violence against police began tearing apart his motel room, then barricaded himself inside for more than eight hours when police arrived, officials said.
Police were summoned to the Arrow Inn, 469 E. Arrow Highway, about 10:15 a.m. when motel staff reported a 50-year-old guest was breaking items inside room 110, Azusa police Lt. Tim Harrington said.
When officers arrived, the man shouted at the officers and locked himself inside the room, the lieutenant said. He declined to disclose exactly what the suspect said, but described it as “threatening in nature.”
It was unclear whether the man had any weapons with him.
His identity was known to police, though it was not released as the stand-off continued Saturday afternoon. The man has a previous conviction for battery on a police officer.
Shortly after the stand-off began, “Water started coming from under the door, so he did something to the plumbing,” Harrington said.
A SWAT team responded to the scene to deal with the holed-up suspect. The team took tactical positions around the room, periodically advancing up toward the door, then backing off.
A person who said knows the man well but did not wish to be identified said he suffers from bipolar disorder and had left his home in Covina Tuesday and never returned. He was believed to have been binging on alcohol and drugs.
More than a dozen people evacuated from the motel watched and waited from a sidewalk across the street for the situation to draw to a close.
Several of them said they were surprised that the man, who they described as calm, was involved in such an incident.
“I know him. I didn’t think he would do something like that,” said motel guest Becky Herrera.
Another guest at the motel, Christopher Martine, said at the outset of the incident he heard banging noises coming from the room two doors down, along with the sound of keys handling.
When Martin went outside, he said another guest told him he might want to get back inside because the police had arrived. He then noticed that a lamp from the nearby motel room had been thrown through a window.
Martin said hotel staff then told him he should stay in his room. About five minutes later, police came to his door to tell him to hurriedly evacuate. He did even have time to put on a shirt.
Police then began trying to coax the man out of the room, Martin said, telling him, “You’re not in trouble, we just want to talk to you. We need to know if you’re injured.”
The standoff continued past 6 p.m.
SWAT team members arrested a San Dimas man accused of threatening his adult son with a handgun Saturday following a stand-off that lasted more than six hours, authorities said.
Michel Zerrudo, 57, was ultimately booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and making criminal threats shortly before 2 p.m., Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. David Buckner said. After holing up inside his home for more than six hours, he exited the home and surrendered.
The incident began about 7:35 a.m. at the home in the 100 block of Calle Renata when Zerrudo became involved in an argument with his adult son and pointed a handgun at him, Sgt. Rebecca Rodriquez said.
The son managed to get away from his father unhurt, and other family members also exited the home, the sergeant said. But Zerrudo himself remained in the house and refused orders to come out and surrender.
The cul-de-sac was evacuated, and heavily armed deputies from the Sheriff’s Enforcement Bureau, along with their armored vehicles, arrived at the scene a short time later.
“We heard the helicopter saying, ‘Come out with your hands up,” said neighbor Gloria Gonzalez, 48.
Minutes later, she said deputies with rifles in hand came to her home and told her she needed to evacuate due to a man nearby with a gun.
Several residents, such as 59-year-old Susan Lukachie, said deputies had them leave their home by climbing ladders over their backyard fences in order to stay out of harms way.
Lakachie said she saw her neighbor standing near the window of an upstairs bedroom. He yelled something to the deputies, though she could not make out what it was.
A crisis negotiator made contact with the holed-up suspect, but Zerrudo continued refusing to exit the home.
A loud bang consistent with that created by a flash-bang grenade was heard from the home about 1 p.m., however officials could not confirm whether a flash-bang grenade was deployed into the home. Several quieter popping noises were heard coming from the home minutes later, though the source of the sound was not clear.
Zerrudo came out of the home and surrendered to deputies just before 2 p.m., as deputies were preparing to pump tear gas into the home.
About two-dozen evacuated residents who waited at a nearby corner were advised to move back to avoid being exposed to tear gas just before Zerrudo surrendered.
They said Zerrudo lived at the home with his wife, son and daughter-in-law. But the son and his wife were in the process of moving out.
Zerrudo moved in about three years ago, Lakachi said.
Though Lukachie said she had only spoken with Zerrudo two or three times, he had mentioned an affinity for firearms during those brief contacts.
“He said he collects guns,” she said.
Buckner said several guns were found inside the home, though it was unclear if the handgun believed to have been used to threaten his son was among them.
The neighbors made the best of their unexpected evacuation, setting up an impromptu picnic with donuts and pizza just beyond the yellow crime scene tape that cordoned off their street.
They erupted into cheers when deputies drove by with a handcuffed Zerrudo in the back seat of a patrol car.
MIRADA – A nine-hour standoff ended Friday when a gunman who had holed up
inside a home was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
deputies hadn’t released the man’s name by Friday night.
incident began about 7:30 a.m. at a house on Mercado Avenue, near Rosecrans
Avenue, sheriff’s Sgt. Greg Arnold said.
evacuated about 390 students from a nearby middle school during the standoff,
taking them to a local park.
said deputies responded to reports of gunshots heard inside the house. At the
time, family members told officials the man was a danger to himself.
about 11 a.m., after refusing orders to surrender, “the suspect fired
several rounds out of the house,” said Sgt. Diane Hecht. No one was struck
by the gunfire.
Los Coyotes Middle School, at 14640 Mercado Ave., was placed on lockdown as a
precaution at the outset of the incident, authorities said. But the roughly 390
students were ultimately bused to La Mirada Park, 15105 Alicante Road, after
the shots were fired.
encircled the home and attempted to contact the person inside, Arnold said.
Deputies noted blood stains outside the home.
homes were also evacuated as a precaution.
said a robot was used to search the house but didn’t locate the man.
about 4:45 p.m., he said the special enforcement bureau, which is the sheriff’s
SWAT team, forced their way into the house and
discovered the man dead.
- From staff reports
The LAPD has set up a command post at the 15 Freeway and Limonite Avenue in Ontario. The post, essentially a BevMo parking lot will be used for media briefings.