Pasadena Police Probing Whether Officer’s Shot Killed Woman

Pasadena Police Probing Whether Officer’s Shot Killed Woman
She was a passenger in a car pursued by officers. It is the city’s third fatal shooting in eight days.
By Megan Garvey
Times Staff Writer

September 4, 2006

Pasadena police are investigating whether an officer fired the shot that killed a 21-year-old woman early Sunday morning as officers tried to apprehend the driver of the car she was in, authorities said.

Police said it was the third shooting death in eight days in Pasadena, a city of about 141,000 that had nine homicides last year.

Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian called the recent homicides “a reflection of an ongoing turf battle between black and Hispanic gangs that we’ve been trying to deal with over the last couple of months.”

Melekian said the fatal incident Sunday began when police got a call about 1 a.m. from a young woman reporting that a man following her and her friends had fired shots at them from a vehicle. She was attending a party near the intersection of North Marengo Avenue and Tremont Street in Pasadena.

While the woman was on the phone with police, Melekian said, dispatchers could hear shots being fired.

“Police responded to the location, and while they were taking the report the car returned to the area,” he said at a news conference. “The suspect fired several more shots in the presence of the officers.”

Melekian said it was not clear if the suspect, Walter Villanueva, 23, of Altadena, realized that officers were nearby. Villanueva allegedly turned and pointed his weapon at the officers — one of whom fired one shot in his direction. Melekian said the officers apparently were unaware that Villanueva had a passenger in his vehicle when the officer fired at him.

Police said Villanueva was pursued several blocks south before his car stopped near Washington Elementary School. Officers were able to arrest him and then discovered Erica Hindman of Pasadena, “who was dead or who was dying” in the front passenger seat, Melekian said.

He said officers believe that Hindman and Villanueva had a “relationship, the exact nature of which is unclear.”

“Obviously, the big question is whose bullet is responsible for this young woman’s death, and we don’t know yet,” Melekian said. An autopsy could be done as early as today, he said.

Members of Hindman’s family gathered Sunday afternoon at their home, just a few blocks from where the short pursuit ended. A man, his eyes swollen and teary, said that “nothing like this has ever happened in our family.”

Melekian said there were reports of several shootings in the area that night, adding that Villanueva, who is Latino, appeared to be targeting blacks.

Daniel Posada, 30, lives across the street from the Hindman family and said he hadn’t had any problems, although he said there had been tensions between black residents who used to make up the bulk of the neighborhood and Latinos who now predominate.

“We’ve been living here for five years and it’s been really quiet,” Posada said, “but when I was growing up a few blocks away, it was a pretty bad neighborhood.”


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