Vigil held following police killing of Halloween partygoer

LOS ANGELES - Friends of an actor killed by police while carrying a fake gun at a Halloween party staged a candlelight vigil after the police chief blamed the shooting on the realism of the prop weapon.

Chief Bernard C. Parks said Monday that the officer who fired nine shots at Anthony Dwain Lee through a window at a West Los Angeles mansion had ''no time'' to determine whether the weapon was real or to shout a warning.

The gun, which Parks displayed at a news conference, was made of solid dark gray rubber in the shape of an Israeli-made .357 Desert Eagle semiautomatic handgun.

''Whether it's a Halloween party, on the street or at a robbery ... we can't take for granted that (a gun) is a replica,'' Parks said.

He said such replicas - often used as movie props - have led to at least seven officer-involved shootings since 1998. He did not provide details.

Parks also expressed his department's ''deep condolences'' to Lee's family.

''It's a tragic event,'' he said.

Lee, 39, was shot on Saturday when he pointed the gun at an officer investigating noise complaints.

To honor Lee, about 250 people gathered Monday night outside the West Los Angeles police station, where the officer who killed him is stationed.

Friends described Lee as a devout Buddhist and a peacemaker who taught theater arts to inner-city youth.

During the 1-hour rally, they chanted Buddhist prayers and placed burning candles at the base of an American flag outside the station. Several speakers urged the crowd not to be angry with police.

''There's a righteous anger here, but Anthony would not want to be used as a political tool,'' said Tom Kellogg, a friend of Lee.

The actor had appeared in small TV and film roles on shows such as ''ER,'' ''NYPD Blue'' and in the 1997 Jim Carrey movie ''Liar Liar.''

Party guest Steve Sims, a registered nurse, was standing in the backyard when the shooting occurred.

''I heard shots. Bang. Bang. Bang,'' Sims said in a telephone interview. ''I thought it was a hoax. I wasn't absolutely sure (the officer) was a real cop, until I took a close look at his badge.''

Sims said he was allowed to examine Lee before the ambulance arrived but the actor already was dead.

''The gun was right next to his hand. It looked like a real gun to me,'' Sims said, adding that the officer asked, ''Why'd he have to pull that gun?''

Those who knew Lee acknowledge he carried the fake weapon as part of a devil costume but insist he would never have pointed it at anyone - even as a joke.

''I can tell you with absolute confidence that it wasn't in his nature,'' said Ramon McLane, Lee's neighbor and friend for 13 years. ''He was a lot smarter than that.''

''Anthony was a well-seasoned actor who carried prop guns for some of his roles,'' McLane said. ''He knew never to point a gun at someone, regardless of whether it was real or not.''

Lee's younger sister, Tina Vogt, who works for the chief of the Sacramento Police Department, planned to attend the rally. Vogt has said she is baffled by the killing and questions the LAPD's account of the shooting.

LAPD officials have refused to discuss many elements of the case, pending the outcome of a department investigation.

Officer Tarriel Hopper, 27, who has been with the department for three years, has been placed on paid leave while the LAPD and county district attorney's office investigate the death.

Hopper and his partner arrived at the mansion in the affluent Benedict Canyon area about 1 a.m. Saturday morning, Lt. Horace Frank said.

Tenants of the home - nicknamed ''The Castle'' for its towering, sky-blue turrets and arches - were hosting a Halloween costume party that attracted hundreds of guests.

Witnesses said some of the revelers came dressed as police officers.

Parks, however, said he doubted that the officers could have been mistaken for costumed guests. ''I think when you show up with LAPD uniforms in LAPD cars, and an LAPD badge, it's clear who you are,'' he said.

Lee had donned a rubber devil mask, friends said, and carried the toy gun as a prop. He was not wearing the mask when he was shot.

Hopper and his partner were walking along the edge of the house looking for the party's host when they spotted Lee in a back bedroom, acccording to Frank.

''(Lee) turned to (Hopper) and pointed what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon at him,'' he said.

That's when Hopper opened fire.

Lee died of multiple gunshot wounds, county coroner Scott Carrier said. Exactly where Lee was shot, and how many times he was hit, remained under seal by investigators Monday, Carrier added.

The tenants said they were shocked by the killing but refused further comment.

Andrea Lipson, of Camarillo, who owns the house with her husband but did not attend the party, questioned why officers would prowl around the home instead of knocking on the front door.

''Why did they walk around most of the house just to peer in through a small window at a guy in the last room?'' she asked. ''And if the officer saw a gun pointing at him, why didn't he stand aside and duck down? Next to the window is a great big plaster wall.''


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