12/23/1976 by JD Harris
I think Mike Nagaoka was conducting briefing. It was Christmas day The briefing room door slid open and Captain Vic Cavallero stepped into the briefing room. His wavy salt and pepper hair seemed to have added a few white hairs around the temples and his eyes looked tired.
“Did you want to talk to the troops?” The Nag respectfully asked.
(It went something like this) “If I might have just a moment,” the Captain replied. “I just wanted to take a moment to wish each of you a Merry Christmas. I think we’ve all received the best Christmas present we could ask for. Dolan’s fine, although he did loose the tip of his finger. Mike and George (Mike Waters and George Arthur) are on the mend. Looks like they’re going to leave the bullet in Mike’s sinus cavity because of concerns of facial paralysis if they go in after it. George is doing well and the brain swelling they were worried about is no longer an issue. Al (Al Kopperud) still hasn’t regained consciousness but the partially severed aorta has been repaired. They’ll do surgery on his knees a little later but the doctors said it looks like he’ll make a full recovery.”
“You guys take a back seat to no one and I’m proud to be the Captain of Firestone Station.”
It happened 38 years ago. The body count that night was incredible. Three deputies and a sergeant went to St. Francis. There were two dead suspects in the parking lot of the United California Bank. A double homicide at the Mexican bar a couple of blocks south of the station on Compton. Marv Cavanaugh had the handle on that one. Another dead body on the sidewalk in the north end. The pursuit and shooting that ended in LAPD’s area of what was thought to be the outstanding suspect in the Waters and Arthur shooting but turned out to be the GTA suspect that shot Dolan. And one more officer involved shooting in the “Brook” of a man with a broom. Fortunately, the deputy missed.
There were associated anecdotal incidents:
* “Don’t shoot the observer with the shotgun”
* Kenny Phillips and Steve Nelson ended up suspended in their car 5 feet up a guy wire that supported a telephone pole in an alley.
* A short Sergeant that couldn’t see over the fence who attempted to defy gravity by jumping as high as he could to fire at the suspect.
* Allegations that a deputy pointed a gun at a fireman who refused to allow Al Kopperud to be transported in a radio car.
* The incredible strength of Mark Milburn who tore the door from the remaining hinge of Kopperud’s car and threw it in the street to get him out.
And it all happened in a brief 4 hours on December 23, 1976.
“In a few moments, a hail of gunfire, two Deputies lay critically wounded on the sidewalk.”
By Marvin Cavanaugh
Although it is near the end of February in this New Year. We at Firestone Park are just putting 1976 out of our minds. The last week in December was very trying and at best shocking and unbelievable.
Generally the week before Christmas everyone finds themselves busied with preparations for parties, family celebrations, and all the rest that surround this joyous season. Our Christmas spirit came to an abrupt halt on December 23. On this day a nightmare would unfold and continue through the month of December. I am sure this sequence of events will be remembered for many years to come.
On or about 9 p.m. Thursday. December 23rd. the ugly face of death and destruction reared its head in the Firestone Park area. In a matter of minutes. a hail of gunfire, two Deputies lay critically wounded on the sidewalk, along with two mortally wounded suspects. As if this mania wasn’t enough, the nightmare continued. Sgt. Al Kopperud monitored the 998 broadcast. “Deputies Down,” and immediately responded. Moments later Sgt. Kopperud himself was critically injured in a traffic accident and began a two-week fight for his life.
In a brief ten minutes. Deputy Mike Waters lay in a hospital bed with a gunshot wound to his face. Deputy George Arthur next to him, with half of his skull savagely beaten in. Moments later, Sgt. Kopperud was rushed into the same intensive care unit, fighting for his life.
In our chosen profession we are not afforded the luxury of turning away from the anxieties of “Hurt, disgust and pain of a fallen Deputy.” There was no time to stop and mourn. There was a vast crime scene to protect. The situation had to be pieced together. Witnesses must be found, and a broadcast must be initiated. To everyone’s dismay a third suspect had escaped –
The night continued with our fallen Deputies fighting for their lives in the hospital. Firestone personnel, aided by SEB and Homicide teams, carefully pieced the puzzle together. Within hours the deceased suspects were identified and more important a search for the outstanding suspect was underway.
After all is done the waiting began. A short time to unwind. Tension and emptiness around the Station could be felt miles away. Everyone’s thoughts and prayers are in the intensive care unit at St. Francis. However, the world wouldn’t stop. The phone continues to ring at the desk. The Station lobby is filled with people demanding one kind of service or another. We can no longer unwind or regroup, it’s time to go back to work.
The radio traffic begins. “11D from the Station to handle, any unit to assist gunshot victim on the sidewalk at 83rd and Compton.” Before the call is acknowledged. ’11A handle any two SEB units assist, CHP requesting assistance Florence and Holmes major 415 in the street.” It goes on and on. It’s now 11A, the 245 gunshot victim is now a 187. Several other calls have turned into demanding situations. There are no units available. Some units are still assigned to the Deputy shooting. Two units are working the 187 and Carson Station is working the Brook. The radio traffic continues.
December 23 is beginning to sound like the opening paragraphs of Dallas Barnes’ book, Badge of Honor. This is no story, it is happening! Where does it end? When will it end?
Firestone Station is in various stages of controlled hysteria. Off-duty Firestone Deputies are in the Station suiting up. Assistant Sheriff Edmonds, Chief Lanier, Inspector Wert, and Acting Capt. Gary Vance are in conference at the station. It’s now about 1:15 a.m., the Department helicopter is hovering above the station area, ready to assist. Sgt. Doug Travis is at the controls, ready to set his bird down if necessary.
The next radio transmission is from Doug Travis. He has picked up a speeding vehicle in the vicinity of the Deputy shooting, headed eastbound. The vehicle closely resembles the one seen at the location. An intercepting unit is requested to investigate. A few moments later Sgt. Joe Smith and Deputy Doug Dolan. from SEB, are in pursuit. The pursuit goes south, east and south again. The suspect’s vehicle spins out with SEB directly behind. Additional units are converging. The entire operation is being monitored by the Aero unit. The suspect dove out of the vehicle, spun around and opened fire on Sgt. Smith and Deputy Dolan. Deputy Dolan goes down, the radio screeches “998, Deputy Down.” The identical broadcast of four hours ago.
The suspect flees on foot. The Aero unit overhead directs ground units and the suspect is located. The suspect fires again as Deputies lunge for cover. A gunfight ensues and the suspect is mortally wounded.
Deputy Dolan is rushed to St. Francis and treated for a gunshot wound in his hand.
The wee hours of the morning are upon us. The radio traffic has finally grown silent. But as this night continues to unfold, the radio refused to cooperate. “I5A handle, l5D assist, 459N 18000 Bandera!” The handling unit goes 10-97 and moments later they are confronted with a lead-pipe wielding suspect. For the third time within six hours the RTO repeats the spine-tingling request for assistance. “I5A is requesting immediate assistance. 245 on a Deputy Shots fired,” The engines roar and tires squeak as the black and white machines respond. The feeling among all of us is unanimous. “When will it end? Where does it end?”
It is now time to rap up all the loose ends. Begin the seemingly endless pages of reports to document this day, December 23 and the morning hours of the 24th.
By mid-afternoon all the reports are in. Everyone who worked during this night wearily makes their way to the parking lot. It is finally time to go home. As each one of us left the station parking lot, passing in front of the station, our thoughts were far from Christmas tidings. Most of the Deputies would return to work their assigned shifts in a matter of hours. Our thoughts were not about renewing friendships or Christmas with family. Instead our minds were in the intensive care unit at St. Francis. In three beds, with their life signs continually monitored, lay our Christmas.
To conclude this article we commend all Department units who assisted us through our nightmare. It is quite evident that the combined team effort and joint concern by men in the highest positions in our Department all worked together, thus forming a finely tuned and precision organization during a time when nothing less than excellence is acceptable.
On January 5, Deputies Mike Waters and George Arthur were released from the hospital to convalesce at home. Sgt. Kopperud was released approximately one week later.
So it is now history, Christmas 1976 arrived at Firestone Park in mid-January.
On this eve of the Christmas Holiday, we at Lasdretired.org would like
to wish each and everyone of you, a very Merry Christmas. As tomorrow
is Christmas, this seems only fitting that it should go out on Christmas Eve.
Anyone working patrol on Christmas Eve should recognize it. The file is attached.