Vigil Held for Actor Killed by LAPD

Monday, October 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Friends of an actor shot to death by police as he allegedly wielded a fake gun at a Halloween costume party planned a vigil Monday, with some questioning whether race played a role in the killing.

Anthony Dwain Lee's friends planned to gather at 7 p.m. outside the police division where Officer Tarriel Hopper is stationed. Hopper shot Lee early Saturday as he and another officer investigated a noise complaint at the West Los Angeles mansion where hundreds of people had attended the party, officials said.

``He's a black man who died in a white neighborhood,'' Mary Lin, one of Lee's friends, told the Los Angeles Times.

Police said Hopper, who also is black, and his partner arrived at the residence about 1 a.m. Saturday, and were searching for the owner when they peered through a window and saw Lee and two others in a small room.

Hopper fired through the glass when he allegedly saw Lee point a gun at him. The gun turned out to be fake.

``He had no way of knowing it was fake even though people were in costume. If you feel your life is threatened, you react in the way you were trained,'' said Officer Charlotte Broughton, a police spokeswoman.

``I think most people can understand where we're coming from as far as what we have to do. We're risking our lives every day,'' she added.

Broughton refused to say whether Hopper, a three-year department veteran, identified himself before firing.

Steve Sims, a nurse attending the party, told the Los Angeles Times that Hopper was distraught after the shooting, asking repeatedly as they waited for an ambulance: ``Why did he have to pull that gun?''

Lee, 39, had been wearing a black sweat shirt, a black vest and tan pants, said county coroner's Lt. Dan Aikin. It was not immediately clear if he was also wearing a mask or other elements of a costume.

Partygoers said some guests were dressed up as Los Angeles police officers.

The house's absentee owner and builder, Warren Lipson, told the Times that he wondered why police ventured behind the mansion in investigating a noise complaint.

``They walked up the open driveway and passed by several kitchen windows and other large windows in the living room, all of which were full of people in costume,'' he said. ``There were several doors they could have gone in, but they didn't do that.''

``Talk about overkill, they really messed up,'' said Lee's Van Nuys neighbor, Elizabeth Coe, 58. ``It must have been an unthinking or young officer.''

Friends described Lee as a devout Buddhist whose acting career was gaining momentum. His roles included recurring appearances in the TV series ``Brooklyn South'' as a minister objecting to police abuse. He also played small role as a lawyer in the 1997 Jim Carrey comedy, ``Liar Liar,'' and had appearances on episodes of the television show ``ER'' that have not yet aired.

Mitch Hale, a friend, said that Lee chanted each morning and evening at his Van Nuys apartment and was active at a Buddhist community center.

``He was what we call in Buddhism a bodhisattva, a person whose life is devoted to serving others,'' Hale said.

Actress Jacqueline Moscou, who acted with Lee in Seattle in 1988, told The Seattle Times that his death came as a shock to many.

``It's just out of the blue. There's real sorrow, and of course there's anger,'' she said. ``It's unnecessary — another black man killed by police.''

Lee grew up in Sacramento, dealing drugs as a member of the gang, and began his transformation to an actor after getting stabbed in the back in a fight, he told The Seattle Times in 1993.

``We were sitting in the emergency room,'' Lee said, ``and Mom found this brochure about an acting course. She said she'd pay the $30 fee if I'd go to it, so I went — and that was it.''

Lee began performing in Sacramento theater groups, including one that toured hospitals.

``Up to then I was very misogynist, very destructive,'' he told the Seattle newspaper, ``but that was the beginning of my discovering the power of compassion, that compassion isn't weakness but strength.''

The shooting comes at a difficult time for the nation's second-largest police force, which is struggling through a scandal involving allegations of perjury and abuse by anti-gang officers in the Rampart division.

The LAPD has other problems as a result of officer-involved shootings, too, including a lawsuit by the family of a mentally-ill homeless woman, Margaret Mitchell, who was shot and killed in May 1999 after she allegedly lunged at an officer with a screwdriver.


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