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ROBBERY SUSPECTS JAILED AFTER GUNFIGHT.

Byline: Jason Kandel Staff Writer

RESEDA - Three men under surveillance for a string of supermarket robberies were arrested after a gunbattle with a controversial LAPD investigative squad that chased them after a late-night holdup in Reseda, police said Monday.

The shootout left one suspect wounded with shotgun pellets and another with dog bites, police said. The officers, all members of the Los Angeles Police Department's Special Investigative Section, were not hurt.

The two wounded men and a third suspect were arrested after the gunplay, which erupted in the 6400 block of Hesperia Avenue, several blocks from a Ralphs supermarket at Vanowen Street and Darby Avenue. The supermarket was robbed about 11:30 p.m. Sunday while detectives from the special squad had the suspects under surveillance.

The suspects were identified as Eddie Lee Nash, Ryan Gandy and Wylie Phillips, all 22 years old and residents of the west San Fernando Valley. They were booked on suspicion of attempting to murder a police officer, in addition to the robbery, said LAPD Lt. Jim Grayson. The men are suspects in a string of supermarket heists across the Valley, he added.

``We got good evidence,'' Grayson said. ``We got 'em linked to these crimes pretty good. We ought to be able to put 'em away for a good while.''

Nash and Phillips are on parole for other crimes, said LAPD Sgt. John Pasquariello.

Grayson said authorities had viewed surveillance videos from some of the earlier robberies, but the tapes showed only the backs of the suspects. So the special squad was called in to investigate.

``They're the only ones that go and look for these guys with a passion, and usually they find 'em,'' said LAPD Deputy Chief Ronald Bergmann, the Valley commander.

``I'd say probably most of the situations they get into, they arrest the suspects without a shooting. But they certainly do have some shootings.''

The squad has come under criticism by civil-rights groups for tactics such as putting known criminals under surveillance and allowing them to commit crimes before moving in to make an arrest.

Police said the undercover team watched the suspects rob the supermarket Sunday, then followed them to the Hesperia Avenue neighborhood where they had stashed a second getaway car.

Neighbors were shocked.

``I was just getting ready to go to bed when I heard shots - two shots, and then three more, really loud,'' said Richard Burley. ``I jumped up. My wife woke up and ran and looked out the window. Some guy was running by, with the police after him, with a gun in his hand.''

Veronica Martinez said she saw one of the suspects hiding in her neighbor's back yard.

``I was really, really scared and nervous,'' she said. ``I didn't know what was going on. I waited and waited with my children in my bedroom.''

Police had noticed a pattern of market robberies since October. From three to five men, about 22 to 26 years old, carrying guns and wearing ski masks and dark clothing, preyed on the stores.

The men entered supermarkets and liquor stores with their handguns drawn and pointed them at customers and employees. The suspects demanded money from the registers and forced the store managers to open safes.

Grayson said detectives from the special investigative squad and from the department's Robbery Special Section, which he heads, were working on the case when they saw their main suspect meet with two other men at an apartment building in Reseda.

Nearly six hours later, the three suspects drove to Hesperia Avenue and Newcastle Street in Reseda in two separate vehicles.

Police said the special squad watched the main suspect park a white Oldsmobile on the street and then get into a gray minivan with the other two men.

The suspects drove to the Ralphs at Vanowen and Darby, parked the van in front of the market and entered about 11:30 p.m., Pasquariello said.

The robbery occurred too fast for the detectives to prevent it, Grayson said.

Two suspects pulled their shirts over their faces and the third put on a ski cap as they got out of the van, he said. ``They ran in the store and committed a robbery. It was that quick,'' he added.

After the robbery, the suspects jumped into the van and sped away, followed closely by undercover officers.

The detectives said they followed the suspects back to Hesperia Avenue, the place where the white Oldsmobile was parked. That's when the shootout began.

The detectives said the gunmen spotted them, and one opened fire. A special-squad detective fired back, and a second officer fired a shotgun at the suspect, police said.

Police said one suspect was caught immediately as he tried to run through a police perimeter. Police dogs sniffed out the other two.

Officers said they recovered a revolver and another handgun at the scene.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 21, 2003
Words:810
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