Saturday, July 23, 2016
L.A. just another violent third world hellhole? look at the bright side Hillary has more criminals to embrace
Bheri Werntz and his family were sleeping when the silver Volkswagen Jetta slid into their Burbank driveway, its electronic dance music pulsating so loudly in the early morning that it woke them up.
Werntz peered outside. Not recognizing the car or its driver, the 67-year-old walked out of his house, rapped on the Jetta’s window and asked the man to turn the music down.
Without a word, the driver calmly pointed a silver handgun at Werntz.
After gunshots rang out, Werntz’s son raced to his wounded father’s side. Weston Werntz said he locked eyes with the gunman before the Jetta sped down the street.
“He was smirking,” Weston Werntz said. “This cocky, closed-mouth grin.”
The Dec. 9 attack that left Bheri Werntz seriously injured was part of a month-long series of shootings, robberies, carjackings and at least one killing that authorities across Los Angeles County attribute to Artyom Gasparyan, a 32-year-old with an extensive criminal record. Police launched an around-the-clock search that ended when detectives shot and wounded Gasparyan after a wrong-way chase on the 5 Freeway in early January.
Detectives have since widened their investigation into Gasparyan, linking him to at least one other homicide case, according to court records. The documents also show and that authorities missed earlier opportunities to keep him behind bars before December’s bloody rampage.
In a city that’s no stranger to violent crime, police say Gasparyan stood out for the brazen and brutal nature of his attacks. Most of the victims were simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Capt. Billy Hayes, who heads the team of LAPD detectives that was tasked with capturing Gasparyan.
A definitive moment, Hayes said, came when police chased Gasparyan and his alleged accomplice into the Harbor Gateway neighborhood of Los Angeles. The accomplice, 25-year-old Daniel Ramirez, hopped out of their car, shooting at another motorist before stealing his SUV. Gasparyan managed to flee.
Opening fire on someone in front of police, Hayes said, highlighted the “total disregard for people” the pair showed. Police worried the violence would only escalate the longer Gasparyan was on the loose.
“That’s why it was so important to get him,” Hayes said, “because of the carnage and the havoc he could wreak on the community.”
Gasparyan pleaded not guilty in May to more than two dozen charges. His public defender has declined to comment on the case.
Gasparyan’s criminal history dates back to age 16 and is dotted with burglary and drug convictions, along with several traffic violations. Authorities have not given a motive for the violent acts Gasparyan is accused of, but court records offer a few warning signs.
In May 2009, Gasparyan was sentenced to a year in jail for stalking his then-girlfriend. The woman reported she was afraid of Gasparyan, saying he followed her while driving, threatened her parents and hit her, court records show.
Gasparyan warned the woman he would follow her to school and “cut her face,” she said, according to the records. When she said she didn’t want to be filmed having sex, he threatened to beat her.
In the summer of 2014, Gasparyan was charged with a series of car break-ins, in which he stole an iPad, golf clubs and a pastor’s communion set. Detectives tracked Gasparyan down after a video recording captured the license plate of the suspected vehicle: his mother’s silver Jetta.
A probation officer warned that Gasparyan’s “bold and brazen conduct” was escalating. His crimes showed “planning, sophistication or professionalism.” The likelihood that he would successfully complete probation, the report said, “appears nil.”
An LAPD detective quoted in the report was equally blunt: “I feel he is a great candidate for prison.”
At a court hearing in September 2014, Gasparyan pleaded no contest to charges of burglary and receiving stolen property, court records show. The admission was part of a plea deal with prosecutors, who agreed that Gasparyan would be released from jail but could be sentenced to five years behind bars if he violated his probation during the next several years.
Citing the ongoing cases against Gasparyan, a district attorney’s spokeswoman declined to comment on the deal. But, according to an e-mail obtained by The Times, prosecutors made the agreement after concluding that his prior convictions, including the 2009 stalking case, did not show an inclination toward violence.
“There was nothing in his record to suggest that he would commit crimes of such violence based upon his prior crimes,” wrote Dara Williams, assistant head deputy, in an email to a district attorney’s spokeswoman.
The email was mistakenly sent to a Times reporter by the district attorney’s office.
Less than a year later, Gasparyan was arrested in June 2015, after allegedly speeding away from California Highway Patrol officers. Authorities say his Mercedes Benz topped 100 miles per hour and crashed against a guardrail along the 101 Freeway.
Gasparyan was booked into an LAPD jail on suspicion of misdemeanor hit-and-run and evading police, court and jail records show, but was released the next day. It was unclear why Gasparyan was let go when he still on probation. When he didn’t appear in court for a September hearing, a warrant was issued for his arrest.
About a month later, police found a body in the Los Angeles River believed to be that of a 53-year-old woman who disappeared over the summer. The missing woman called Gasparyan’s cell phone at least eight times in the days before her disappearance, according to an affidavit for a search warrant filed earlier this year.
The body from the river had “multiple fatal skull fractures,” and police launched a homicide investigation, the affidavit said. A detective wrote that Gasparyan and the woman’s nephew may have conspired to either kill her or at least hide her slaying.
Gasparyan has not been charged in that case.
In early October, a probation officer wrote that Gasparyan — who was still wanted in the hit-and-run case — was “continuing to engage in criminal activity.” The officer’s report revealed that authorities believed he had assaulted a woman with a deadly weapon in August.
“The probationer needs to be held accountable for his actions,” the officer wrote.
A judge revoked Gasparyan’s probation on Nov. 12 and issued another warrant for his arrest.
Less than a month later, Bheri Werntz was bleeding in his driveway.
As the gunman sped away, he shot a gardener working down the street, the bullet tearing into the man’s foot, authorities said.
A few days later, Burbank police spotted Gasparyan in Long Beach. By then, a department spokesman said, he had been identified as a person of interest in the shootings that left Werntz and the gardener injured.
Investigators tried to stop Gasparyan, but he fled, Sgt. Claudio Losacco said. At the time, Losacco added, Burbank police didn’t have enough information to arrest him in connection with the shootings.
“We had no idea what was going to transpire in the days and weeks ahead,” Losacco said.
Over the coming weeks, police linked Gasparyan and his accomplice, Ramirez, to more than two dozen crimes: A shooting in West Hollywood that left a delivery man wounded. A robbery at a Burbank gas station, where money and cigarettes were stolen at gunpoint. Three shootings, hours apart, in the San Fernando Valley, including one that left a 37-year-old father dead.
A silver Jetta was frequently spotted not far from the crimes, authorities said.
Detectives with the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division — which handles high-profile or more complex investigations — took over the case, scouring the city for leads on Gasparyan and Ramirez’s whereabouts.
The investigation intensified Jan. 1, when an off-duty officer noticed a Volkswagen driving erratically on the 105 Freeway. Patrol cars caught up to the vehicle, which stopped abruptly. Ramirez jumped out and carjacked a nearby Dodge Durango, police said, firing at the driver before taking off in the stolen vehicle.
As the Volkswagen sped away, police chased the Durango into Long Beach, where Ramirez crashed and ran into a nearby home. There, police said, he shot and wounded two men and stabbed their father in the face before shooting himself in the head.
Ramirez died Jan. 2, around the same time the LAPD released a flier with Gasparyan’s picture. “Armed and dangerous,” it read.
Two days later, the search for Gasparyan came to a dramatic conclusion when two LAPD detectives shot and wounded him at the end of a chase on the 5 Freeway. Police found a gun they believed was used in the series of violent crimes.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck made an impromptu stop at the scene, praising the capture of someone he described as a “very, very dangerous individual.”
When Gasparyan’s picture flashed across local television screens, Glendale Police Sgt. Robert William recognized him instantly. William first encountered Gasparyan years ago, when the sergeant worked as a burglary detective.
He remembered Gasparyan as unremarkable, with a mellow demeanor and a particularly ornery pit bull. At the time, William said, his record included a few burglaries and minor drug charges.
The sergeant said he was stunned to learn Gasparyan was now linked to such violence.
“I didn’t think he was capable of doing something like that,” he said.
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers Richard Winton and Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.