The Fatal Holiday

Taylor was slain at a family gathering on New Year‘s Eve, 1998, by anti-gang-unit officers assigned to a special detail aimed at stomping out the holiday practice of shooting off guns in the air. Former CRASH Officer Rafael Perez described another New Year’s Eve incident as one of several “dirty shootings” he learned of during his tenure at the Rampart Division. But the two revelers hit by that police fusillade survived.

Terry Taylor was shot on the backyard patio of his home in the 600 block of 51st Street, south of the Coliseum and east of the Harbor Freeway. Shortly after midnight, he was standing with his son Terryon and his half brother, Charles Anderson, who was holding a breached shotgun in the crook of his arm.

While the family partied, a three-man team of officers from the 77th Street Division crept up Taylor‘s driveway in an effort to locate the source of gunfire heard sporadically in the neighborhood. Unbeknownst to anyone in the house, the officers had made it past the rear patio to the rear fence. There had been gunfire from a house on the next street, and the team was hoping to catch the shooters unawares.

All was quiet, and the officers returned to the street to meet up with a second squad on 51st Street. Then more shots rang out, and the three officers headed back up the driveway. Wearing all-black uniforms and carrying flashlights and drawn guns, the officers apparently were surprised when they caught sight of Anderson’s weapon.

Taylor and his relatives were surprised as well, and scrambled inside the rear door of their three-bedroom home. Two of the three officers promptly opened fire. Two rounds pierced the steel mesh of the rear screen door and fatally wounded Taylor, who was unarmed.

In the initial report of the incident, the department held that Officers Andy Luong and Michael Menegio “identified themselves as police officers, ordered the suspect to put down the gun, the suspect refused to put his gun down, pointed at the officers, and the officers fired in self-defense.”

In depositions taken by attorney R. Samuel Paz, however, the officers admitted that no such warnings were given. “I saw the silhouette of a long-barrel gun as well as a couple of silhouettes of somebody running or two people running inside the residence and a suspect,” said Luong, who fired the two fatal shots. “It was a flash.”

Also arguing against the police version was the physical evidence, particularly the pattern Taylor‘s blood made when it splattered against the stock of the shotgun. Analysis by an LAPD expert of the blood pattern, combined with the location of the bullet holes in the screen mesh, proved that Taylor could not have been holding the gun. The same evidence also showed that the gun was not pointed at the officers at the time of the shooting, but was pointed toward the house, in the direction Taylor and Anderson were running.

Terry Taylor and his wife, Reda, forged a happy home over the course of 20 years. Sweethearts in high school, they had five children -- Terry Jr., Terryon, Renita, Renisha and Reykeisha -- all of whom shared the inflection of their parents’ names. It was a tight-knit bunch.

Terry and Reda first lived in Long Beach, and then briefly in Sacramento. They moved to South Los Angeles, Reda said in an interview, because they could afford to buy a house there. Terry worked as a printer until he injured his back in 1993; thereafter, he stayed home to raise the children while Reda worked at the post office.

On New Year‘s Eve, they hosted a small gathering attended by a few neighbors, their in-laws and several of the children’s friends. There was food and a little music. Later on, some of the kids went to sleep and others watched a video. Outside, however, the night air was crackling with the sound of working-class Los Angeles celebrating the new year: a rising crescendo of gunfire.

That‘s when Charles Anderson made the fateful decision to walk to the hall closet, grab his brother’s shotgun and head outside to join the fun. He let go a single round, he testified later, then broke the chamber open and fell into a conversation with his brother. The cops arrived minutes later.

Once Terry Taylor was shot, nobody had a moment to think or to grieve. Heavily armed officers swarmed the house, cursing and ordering everyone out of the back door and onto the ground. Inside there was panic, family and friends screaming and crying and trying to figure out what had happened. Reda Taylor made her way past the sprawled body of her husband. Stepping out the door, she found her body illuminated by a dozen glowing red dots -- the laser targeting beams of the cops‘ high-caliber weaponry.

At the police station, all were interrogated for hours, and Terry Jr., then 18 years old, was charged with battery on a police officer. The charges were later dropped, but Reda Taylor said she’ll never forget. “They treated us like animals,” she said.

What most struck Sam Paz about the case was how the Police Department maintained its unwavering commitment to protect the officers from culpability in the shooting.

According to their own testimony, Officers Luong and Menegio were taken to the station that night and provided with attorneys, then returned to the Taylor home with their lawyers and walked through the scene, before giving an official statement as to what happened.

“The officers lied from the beginning, and they were assisted by official policy,” said Paz, a veteran civil rights litigator. “The department bends over backward to help the officers tell their best story.”

Paz noted that guidelines put out by the Police Commission require that officers who are involved in shootings be separated until their statements are taken, but that the policy is consistently ignored. “The officers are allowed to conform their testimony to the evidence instead of simply being asked what happened.”

Paz noted further that Luong had already established a record as a problem officer, recording five complaints for using excessive force. A Weekly profile of the 77th Street Division CRASH unit also turned up accounts of unprovoked beatings by Luong. Officer Luong quit the department the day after the Taylor shooting, and is now a police officer in Buena Park.

To Paz, the handling of shooting investigations goes to the heart of efforts to reform the LAPD. “The question goes right back to Eula Love,” a black woman whose shooting by officers in 1978 while standing on her porch and wielding a kitchen knife led to widespread unrest. “The LAPD knows exactly what they‘re doing. They want to defend these officers at all costs.”

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