North Hollywood Shootout: Retired LAPD officer recalls gun battle on 20th anniversary

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A retired Los Angeles officer recalled a terrifying shootout in North Hollywood between police and heavily-armed bank robbers on the 20th anniversary of the infamous gun battle.

The two gunmen exchanged fire with LAPD for 44 minutes after a botched robbery attempt at a Bank of America on Feb. 28, 1997.

"We were totally outgunned. Totally outgunned," said John Caprarelli, a retired Los Angeles police officer.

Caprarelli was one of the first officers to arrive at the scene.

"They just opened up with the automatic weapons to the officers across Laurel Canyon and all four of those officers got shot," Caprarelli recalled.

Two civilians and 11 officers were injured during the gun battle as the robbers unleashed more than 1,100 rounds from illegally modified automatic assault rifles.

Bullets flew into the community and into homes. Patched bullet holes are still evident today in a wall that Caprarelli says shielded him from one of the gunmen.

"It was going through cars, it was going through buildings. There was no cover," he said.

Most of the officers responding to the scene were only armed with 9 mm pistols or .38 Special revolvers. Though outgunned, officers still managed to take down the robbers, identified as Emil Matasareanu and Larry Eugene Phillips Jr.

Matasareanu was killed by police and Phillips killed himself seconds after being shot by officers.

"We've had a lot of improvements after that. Police cars got bullet resistant panels put in them, officers were allowed to start carrying .40 and .45 caliber handguns. We got our own urban police rifles that are still out today. If we had one of those back in the day, just one, that would have been over in the first 8 minutes," Caprarelli explained.

Caprarelli was awarded the Medal of Valor for his bravery that day. He said time has healed some of his emotional wounds, but not all of them.

"I think back to three of the friends, the officers I worked with who took their own lives within two years after that. And I'm not saying it's because of this particular incident, but the whole big picture was just too much. (It's) something I think about," Caprarelli said.
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