The North Hollywood shootout was an armed confrontation between two heavily-armed and armored bank robbers,...
The North Hollywood shootout was an armed confrontation between two heavily-armed and armored bank robbers, Larry Eugene Phillips, Jr. and Emil Matasareanu, and patrol and SWAT officers of the Los Angeles Police Department in North Hollywood, California on February 28, 1997. It happened when responding patrol officers engaged Phillips, 26  and Matasareanu, 30  leaving a bank which the two men had just robbed. Ten officers and seven civilians sustained injuries before both robbers were killed. Phillips and Matasareanu had robbed several armored vehicles prior to their attempt in North Hollywood and were notorious for their heavy armament, which included automatic rifles.
Local patrol officers at the time were typically armed with a 9 mm or .38 Special pistols on their person, with some having a 12-gauge shotgun available in their cars. Phillips and Matasareanu carried fully automatic rifles, with ammunition capable of penetrating police body armor, and wore body armor of their own. Since the police handguns could not penetrate the bank robbers' body armor, the patrol officers' efforts were ineffective. SWAT eventually arrived with weapons that could penetrate and they also appropriated several semi-automatic rifles from a nearby firearms dealer. The incident sparked debate on the appropriate firepower for patrol officers to have available in similar situations in the future.
Larry Phillips, Jr. (left) and Emil Matasareanu (right) engaged LAPD officers in a firefight after robbing a branch of Bank of America.
On the morning of February 28, 1997, after months of preparation, including extensive reconnoitering of their intended target—the Bank of America branch on Laurel Canyon Boulevard—Phillips and Matasareanu loaded five illegally modified fully automatic rifles: three Romanian AIM rifles (an AK-47 copy), a modified HK91 and an AR-15. They also possessed two 9 mm Beretta 92F pistols, a .38 caliber revolver, and approximately 3,300 rounds of ammunition in box and drum magazines, and made their way from their apartment to the bank in a white Chevrolet Celebrity. They wore their homemade body armor, as well as metal trauma plates to protect vital organs, and they took phenobarbital to calm their nerves.
Phillips and Matasareanu arrived at the Bank of America branch office at the intersection of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Archwood Street in North Hollywood around 9:17 a.m., and set their watch alarms for 8 minutes, which was the amount of time they estimated it would take for law enforcement officials to respond. Phillips had been using a radio scanner to listen to police transmissions to determine this time. However, as they walked into the bank they were spotted by an LAPD patrol car driving down Laurel Canyon, and the officers in the car radioed in a possible 211, code for an armed robbery.
Inside the bank, Phillips and Matasareanu forced the assistant manager to open the vault. They fired at least 100 rounds to scare the approximately 30 bank staff and customers inside the bank to discourage resistance. They were only able to get $303,305, instead of the expected $750,000 because the bank had altered the delivery schedule.
At 9:38 a.m. Phillips exited the bank through its north doorway and Matasareanu through its south doorway. Both encountered dozens of LAPD patrol officers who had arrived after the first-responding officers radioed a "shots fired" call. Television news helicopters responding to the "shots fired" LAPD dispatch arrived minutes later, and, despite being shot at by the gunmen themselves, broadcast throughout. SWAT commanders used the live helicopter broadcasts to pass critical, time-sensitive information to the officers on the scene.
Phillips and Matasareanu engaged the officers in a firefight, firing armor-piercing rounds into the patrol cars that had been positioned on Laurel Canyon in front of the bank. The patrol officers were armed with standard Beretta 92-type 9 mm pistols and .38 caliber revolvers, and some also carried 12-gauge pump-action shotguns, but the body armor worn by Phillips and Matasareanu was strong enough to withstand them. Multiple officers and civilians were wounded in the seven to eight minutes spanning from when the shooting began to when Matasareanu entered the robbers' white sedan to make a getaway; Phillips remained outside of the vehicle and continued firing on the police. A tactical alert was issued, and 18 minutes after the shooting had begun, a SWAT team armed with automatic weapons arrived; they also commandeered an armored truck which they used to extract wounded civilians and officers who were pinned down.