Law enforcement personnel marked the 20th anniversary of the North Hollywood shootout Tuesday with a ceremony to honor the actions of officers involved in the February 1997 gunbattle with two heavily armed bank robbers.
The ceremony at the North Hollywood Police Station began at 9:17 a.m., the time that two heavily armed gunmen wearing body armor walked into at North Hollywood bank, setting off one of the most violent days in Los Angeles history. The event included officers who were part of the 44-minute gunbattle in the streets.
A dozen officers and eight civilians were injured on Feb. 28, 1997, in the hail of gunfire between police and two gunmen carrying modified fully automatic assault rifles.
"From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank all of you for what you did," said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. "You made the difference. You were the difference. You defined this organization at a time when it depserately needed it."
The ceremony began with the playing of dramatic police radio calls from the shootout, bringing some in the audience to tears.
"Twenty years is a long time, but it doesn't feel like 20 years. It feels like a lot less," said retired LAPD Officer John Caprarelli, who exchanged gunfire with robbers Larry Phillips Jr. and Emil Matasareanu, the attackers killed in the shootout. "You know, you kind of really never forget it. That's how I would put it. You can never put that aside 100 percent."
Phillips and Matasareanu had meticulously planned the armed robbery at the Bank of America branch at 6600 Laurel Canyon Blvd. for months, and had even calculated the expected LAPD response time by listening to police scanners. But they did not foresee that two police officers would happen to drive by and see them as they entered the bank.
By the time they exited the bank eight minutes later, police had surrounded the building and the robbers immediately unloaded their illegally modified assault rifles, striking multiple officers.
In all, the robbers fired about 1,200 rounds at officers, civilians and even a police helicopter. But hundreds of officers converged to surround the area, preventing their escape. An injured Phillips killed himself and Matasareanu surrendered, but bled out at the scene.
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Caprarelli planned to attend the remembrance event at 9 a.m. today at the LAPD's North Hollywood Division. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Police Commission President Matt Johnson, Chief Charlie Beck and councilmen Paul Krekorian and Mitch Englander are also scheduled to attend.