Detective Daniel Hanabusa was one of 10 Los Angeles Police Department officers who received the Medal of Valor, the LAPD’s highest honor, on Thursday.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and Deputy Chief Terry Hara were among those on hand for the 50th annual awards ceremony and luncheon at the Hollywood & Highland Center, hosted by the Los Angeles Police Foundation, the largest source of funding for the LAPD.
In a Sept. 24, 2010 letter to the Board of Police Commissioners, Beck recommended that the Medal of Honor for bravery be awarded to Detectives Hanabusa and Rafael Acosta, and Officers Rudolph Rivera, Jose Salazar, Benjamin Aguilera and Roy Reza for an incident that occurred on June 5, 2008. Beck gave the following account:
Hollenbeck’s Narcotics Enforcement Detail personnel were conducting surveillance in preparation of serving a search warrant. The operation was in its third day, as the officers waited for the right combination of dangerous members from the “Krazy Ass Mexican” (KAM) street gang to assemble at a location that was suspected of manufacturing and selling illegal narcotics.
Members of the surveillance team saw several key drug dealers arrive at the location and conduct activity related to drug sales. Longtime KAM gang members were observed, so the team called to have the warrant served. The officers assembled and planned their service of the warrant.
They climbed into the rear of a rented bobtail truck and stopped in an alley behind the target location. The team was to enter through the rear in order to avoid being compromised by a surveillance camera that overlooked the front door and sidewalk area. As they reached the rear door, they found it secured. When the suspect refused to let the officers enter, the door was breached, allowing the officers to enter the rear door’s threshold.
Hanabusa was the first one through the door that led into a dark kitchen and immediately and without warning came under attack by heavy gunfire. As he returned fire from a seated position, Hanabusa was struck by two rounds. One hit his ballistic helmet just above the right eye and the second round struck him on the left knee.
Salazar observed the suspect firing his pistol and Hanabusa down on the kitchen floor, walked toward the gunfire, and fired back at the suspect. He heard Hanabusa yell, “I’m hit, I’m hit!” Salazar continued to engage the suspect as Acosta entered the tiny kitchen. Salazar grabbed Hanabusa by the vest and shirt collar and began to pull him back to the rear entrance.
Acosta, now in the kitchen, heard Salazar yell, “Officer down!” He saw Salazar begin the rescue effort and saw muzzle flashes coming from the living room doorway where the suspect stood.
Acosta fired cover fire at the muzzle flashes as Salazar pulled Hanabusa to safety. As the two neared his position, Acosta stopped firing and helped Salazar pull Hanabusa to safety. Acosta then fired additional rounds at what he believed to be multiple suspects firing at them.
Aguilera, who had stepped into the kitchen as Hanabusa went down, observed muzzle flashes and felt rounds coming by him. He was not able to see the suspect firing, but fired cover fire as Hanabusa was dragged out.
After Acosta backed out of the residence, Rivera observed the suspect in the kitchen doorway, firing at the officers who were exiting. Rivera moved towards the gunfire and fired at the suspect, then backed away from the rear door of the residence.
Reza was assigned to the outside containment when he heard the exchange of gunfire. He immediately put out an “officer needs help” call over the radio. When he heard Hanabusa yell that he had been shot, he left his position of cover and crawled past the bullets being fired over his head to reach the wounded detective.
Reza grabbed Hanabusa and pulled him away from the rear of the residence into an alley. At the rear of the location, the officers began to render aid to Hanabusa until a rescue ambulance arrived.
The investigation revealed that the suspect fired a total of eight rounds from his .45 caliber pistol at the entry team. He then took his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A second suspect inside the residence surrendered to police officers shortly after the shooting ceased.
“The Hollenbeck Narcotics and Gang officers named in this incident displayed heroism, unwavering bravery in the line of fire, reacted quickly, and made sound decisions that saved lives and avoided further injuries,” said Beck. “They also displayed sound tactics and communication skills that resulted in a team effort to extract a wounded fellow officer.”
Also honored were:
Officers Thorsten Timmermans and Owen Berger and retired Sgt. Dan Gardner, who were on patrol on Nov. 7, 2007, in the southeast area of the city when they responded to a call of a man with a gun who was holding a woman hostage. They freed the hostage and arrested the gunman after a shootout during which Berger was wounded in the arm.
Officer Custodio Ponce, who was shot and wounded on Feb. 1, 1996, while on an anti-gang patrol with his partner at a housing project in the Hollenbeck area