L.A. shooting has police back on defensive

  Haya El Nasser;Jonathan T. Lovitt


  USA Today


  Page 04A

  (Copyright 1992)


  LOS ANGELES - Willie Williams, the city's new police chief, has helped his

  scandal-ridden department regain some of the community's trust.


  But now, four months after a public relations blitz, nine bullets squeezed off in a

  few seconds threaten to shatter the department's new image.


  Minority groups are in an uproar over Monday's police shooting of a broom-

  wielding Hispanic man.


  Efrain Lopez, 18, died after one of the officers called by Lopez's mother to settle

  a domestic squabble shot him nine times. Police called Lopez a gang member

  who assaulted his mother and a neighbor and charged the officers.


  Hispanic activists demonstrated at the Foothill police division Wednesday night.

  They say police used excessive force and were more willing to pull the trigger

  because the suspect was Hispanic. They now plan to air their gripes at a Police

  Commission meeting Tuesday.


  ``Nothing will convince me that it took nine shots to subdue one person,'' says

  Gloria Romero, chairwoman of the Hispanic Advisory Council to the civilian

  Police Commission.


  And the Foothill division has a bad reputation: Foothill police beat black motorist

  Rodney King in March 1991.


  ``I'm scared of the police. They're like a domestic military,'' says Ruth

  McLendon, 56, who lives in Pacoima, where Monday's shooting took place. ``I

  don't even call the police. ... I don't trust their judgment.''


  But Foothill officers say they've tried hard to improve relations. After the King

  beating, commanders were reshuffled. Police even threw a Halloween party for

  local kids.


  For a department that's working on a facelift, this week's shooting is an

  unwelcome hit.


  ``It's a setback,'' Foothill Capt. Gabe Ornelas says.


  The pressure is now on Williams, the city's first black chief: ``I'd like to see

  Williams come here and apologize to his (Lopez's) family,'' says Pacoima

  resident Kenyatta Green, 20.


  Says Romero: ``This will be a critical moment. Is he (Williams) going to deal

  with these issues? ... The honeymoon could end.''


  There could be more trouble ahead. The federal trial of the four officers accused

  of violating King's civil rights is scheduled to begin Feb. 2.


  Acquittal of the officers in the first state trial in April sparked bloody rioting.


  Thursday, U.S. District Judge John Davies ruled that the jury in the trial be

  sequestered and remain anonymous.


  He also made rulings that could complicate the government's case: Racial

  computer messages sent by officers prior to the King beating - including the

  infamous ``Gorillas in the Mist'' reference to a black family - will not be

  admitted; and prior incidents of suspected use of force by the defendants cannot

  be used as evidence.