LOS ANGELES — Police Chief Bernard C. Parks on Monday blamed a realistic-looking prop gun for the police shooting of an actor at a Halloween party.
The officer who fired 11 shots at Anthony Dwain Lee through a window at a West Los Angeles mansion had “no time” to determine whether the weapon was real or to shout a warning, the chief said at a news conference.
Parks displayed the gun, which he said was made of solid gray rubber in the shape of an Israeli-made .357 Desert Eagle semiautomatic handgun.
Parks said such replicas – often used as movie props – have led to at least seven recent officer-involved shootings.
“Whether it’s a Halloween party, on the street or at a robbery ... we can’t take for granted that (a gun) is a replica,” Parks said.
Parks also expressed his department’s “deep condolences” to Lee’s family.
“It’s a tragic event,” he said.
Lee, 39, was shot on Saturday when he pointed the gun at an officer investigating noise complaints.
Parks said the officer and his partner identified themselves to some partygoers at the home and were directed to the rear of the house to find the host. Instead, they spotted Lee through a window.
Parks said he doubted that the officers could have been mistaken for costumed guests.
“I think when you show up with LAPD uniforms in LAPD cars, and an LAPD badge, it’s clear who you are,” he said.
Lee had appeared in small TV and film roles on shows such as “ER,” “NYPD Blue” and the 1997 Jim Carrey movie “Liar Liar.”
Those who knew Lee acknowledge he carried the fake weapon as part of a devil costume but insist he would never have pointed it at anyone – even as a joke.
“I can tell you with absolute confidence that it wasn’t in his nature,” said Ramon McLane, Lee’s neighbor and friend for 13 years. “He was a lot smarter than that.”
“Anthony was a well-seasoned actor who carried prop guns for some of his roles,” McLane said. “He knew never to point a gun at someone, regardless of whether it was real or not.”
Friends planned to honor Lee’s memory with a candlelight vigil outside the West Los Angeles police division where the officer who killed him is stationed.
Lee’s younger sister, Tina Vogt, who works for the chief of the Sacramento Police Department, planned to attend the rally. Vogt has said she is baffled by the killing and questions the LAPD’s account of the shooting.
LAPD officials have refused to discuss many elements of the case, pending the outcome of a department investigation.
Officer Tarriel Hopper, 27, who has been with the department for three years, has been placed on paid leave while the LAPD and county district attorney’s office investigate the death.
Hopper and his partner arrived at the mansion in the affluent Benedict Canyon area about 1 a.m. Saturday morning, Lt. Horace Frank said.
Tenants of the home – nicknamed “The Castle” for its towering, sky-blue turrets and arches – were hosting a Halloween costume party that attracted hundreds of guests.
Witnesses said some of the revelers came dressed as police officers.
Lee donned a rubber devil mask, friends said, and carried the toy gun as a prop. He was not wearing the mask when he was shot.
Hopper and his partner were walking along the edge of the house looking for the party’s host when they spotted Lee in a back bedroom, Frank said.
”(Lee) turned to (Hopper) and pointed what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon at him,” he said.
That’s when Hopper opened fire.
Lee died of multiple gunshot wounds, county coroner Scott Carrier said. Exactly where Lee was shot, and how many times he was hit, remained under seal by investigators Monday, Carrier added.
The tenants said they were shocked by the killing but refused further comment.
Andrea Lipson, of Camarillo, who owns the house with her husband but did not attend the party, questioned why officers would prowl around the home instead of knocking on the front door.
“Why did they walk around most of the house just to peer in through a small window at a guy in the last room?” she asked. “And if the officer saw a gun pointing at him, why didn’t he stand aside and duck down. Next to the window is a great big plaster wall.”
Frank could not say whether the officers entered the home before the shooting or identified themselves to party guests. He wouldn’t say whether Hopper had his gun drawn before looking in the window.
“You have an officer who just felt his life was being threatened,” Frank said. “It’s sinking in on the poor guy. He’s horrified by the whole thing.”
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