Today is the anniversary(February 28, 1997). I'm surprised the anti-gun crowd is not publicizing it more.
On the morning of February 28, 1997, after months of preparation, including extensive reconnoitering of their intended target—the Bank of America branch located at 6600 Laurel Canyon Boulevard—Phillips and Mătăsăreanu loaded five rifles, one handgun, and approximately 3,300 rounds of ammunition in box and drum magazines into the trunk of their vehicle: two modified Norinco Type 56 S rifles, a modified Norinco Type 56 S-1, a semi automatic HK91 and a modified Bushmaster Dissipator. Phillips also carried a 9mm Beretta Model 92FS INOX, holstered underneath his jacket. Phillips wore a bulletproof vest and several pieces of home made body armor, covering his groin, shins, thighs, and forearms. To store box magazines for the rifles, in particular the HK91, he also wore a load bearing vest over the bulletproof one. Mătăsăreanu wore only a bulletproof vest, but included a metal trauma plate to protect vital organs. Additionally, both robbers had sewn watch faces onto the back of their gloves. Before entering, they took the muscle relaxer phenobarbital to calm their nerves.
Phillips and Mătăsăreanu, driving a white 1987 Chevrolet Celebrity, arrived at the Bank of America branch office at the intersection of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Archwood Street in North Hollywood around 9:17 AM, and set their watch alarms for eight minutes, which they estimated was the average police response time. Phillips had been using a radio scanner to listen to police transmissions to determine this timeframe. As they walked into the bank, they were spotted by two officers, Loren Farrell and Martin Perello, in a patrol car driving down Laurel Canyon, and Officer Perello called out on the radio, "15-A-43, requesting assistance, we have a possible 211 in progress at the Bank of America." 211 is the code for an armed robbery.
As they entered the bank, Phillips and Mătăsăreanu forced a customer leaving the ATM lobby near the entrance into the bank and onto the floor. A security guard inside saw the scuffle and the heavily-armed robbers and radioed his partner in the parking lot to call the police; the call was not received. Phillips and Mătăsăreanu opened fire into the ceiling to scare the approximately thirty bank staff and customers and to discourage resistance. Mătăsăreanu shot at the bulletproof door that gained access to the tellers and vault, and the door, designed to resist only small-calibre rounds, broke open. The robbers forced assistant manager John Villigrana to open the vault, all of this after firing at least 150 rounds into the ceiling and door. After Villigrana opened the vault and filled the robbers' money bag, Mătăsăreanu, enraged at the fact that only small amounts of money were in the safe, argued with Villigrana, demanding more. In another burst of anger, Mătăsăreanu reportedly fired a full drum magazine of 75 rounds into the bank's safe, destroying the rest of the money. They were only able to get US$303,305, instead of the expected US$750,000 because the bank had altered the delivery schedule.
The first-responding officers outside heard the gunfire from the bank and made another radio call to summon additional units, and proceeded to take cover behind their patrol car, weapons trained on the bank doors. Additional patrol and detective units arrived while the robbers were inside the bank, taking strategic positions and surrounding the bank on all four corners. At around 9:32 AM, Phillips exited the bank through its north doorway and Mătăsăreanu through its south doorway. Both encountered several LAPD patrol officers, who had arrived after the first-responding officers radioed the "shots fired" call. Television news helicopters responded to the "shots fired". SWAT commanders used the live helicopter broadcasts to pass critical, time-sensitive information to the officers on the scene. Officers shouted repeatedly for Phillips and Mătăsăreanu to drop their weapons, but none of the officers fired.
Phillips and Mătăsăreanu began to engage the officers, firing rounds into the patrol cars that had been positioned on Laurel Canyon in front of the bank. Officers immediately opened fire. The patrol officers were armed with standard Beretta 92F and Beretta 92FS 9mm pistols and Smith & Wesson Model 15 .38 calibre revolvers, Officer James Zaboravan also carried a 12-gauge Ithaca Model 37 pump-action shotgun, but the body armor worn by Phillips and Mătăsăreanu was strong enough to resist their penetration. Multiple officers and civilians were wounded in the seven to eight minutes from when the shooting began to when Mătăsăreanu entered the robbers' white sedan to make a getaway. He ushered Phillips to get into the vehicle as well, but Phillips remained outside of it, retrieved an HK91 from the trunk, and continued firing on officers and helicopters while crouching behind the cars in the parking lot, possibly providing covering fire for Mătăsăreanu. Phillips fired from 60 to 120 rounds from the HK91, until it was struck in the receiver and magazine by police bullets, and Phillips was hit in the shoulder. He later retrieved a Norinco Type 56 S-1 from the trunk of the Celebrity. A tactical alert was issued, and 18 minutes after the shooting had started, a SWAT team armed with AR-15s arrived. They had just started an exercise run when they received the call and had no time to change, and were thus wearing running shoes and shorts under their body armor. Officers then commandeered an armored cash-delivery truck, which they used to extract wounded civilians and officers from the scene towards the end of the shootout.
Scale map of the area around the bank ($), final locations of Phillips (P) and Mătăsăreanu (M).
A: Laurel Canyon Boulevard - B: Agnes Avenue - C: Ben Avenue - D: Gentry Avenue - E: Radford Avenue - F: Morella Avenue
1: Archwood Street - 2: Lemay Street - 3: Kittridge Street
At 9:52 Phillips, who had been using the getaway vehicle as cover, split from Mătăsăreanu, turned east on Archwood Street, took cover behind a parked truck, and continued to fire at the police with his AKM. However, the gun suffered a malfunction. Erroneously reported as a "stovepipe" jam, in reality a round had become jammed while feeding into the chamber, also trapping the spent cartridge from the previous round. He made an attempt to remove the drum and clear the jam, but ultimately discarded the weapon after failing to clear it, possibly due to being wounded in the left hand and forearm. After abandoning the rifle, Phillips drew a Beretta 92FS pistol and continued firing at police. He was then shot in the right hand, briefly dropped the pistol, retrieved it, and placed the muzzle of his pistol under his chin and shot himself. As his body fell in a crouch-like demeanor, a police bullet hit him in the back of the neck, and several others struck him as he was down. After the firing stopped, officers in the area surrounded Phillips, cuffed him, and removed his ski mask. His body was later covered with plastic sheeting.
Mătăsăreanu's vehicle was rendered nearly inoperable after its tires were shot out. At 9:56, he attempted to carjack a yellow 1963 Jeep Gladiator pickup truck on Archwood, three blocks east of where Phillips died, and transferred all of his weapons and ammunition from the getaway car into the truck. However, sources say Mătăsăreanu was unable to start the truck, because the driver had turned the vehicle and fuel pumps off, leaving the keys in the ignition while others say that it was because the driver had taken the keys with him after leaving the car. As KCBS and KCAL helicopters hovered overhead, a patrol car driven by SWAT officers quickly arrived. Mătăsăreanu left the truck, took cover behind the original getaway car, and engaged them for 2 1/2 minutes of almost uninterrupted gunfire. At least one SWAT officer fired his AR-15 below the cars and wounded Mătăsăreanu in his unprotected lower legs; he was soon unable to continue and put his hands up to show surrender. Seconds after his defeat, officers swarmed him to pin him down. As he was being cuffed, SWAT officers asked for his name, to which he simply replied "Pete". When asked if there were any more suspects, he reportedly laughed and retorted "**** you! Shoot me in the head!". The police radioed for an ambulance, but Mătăsăreanu, swearing erratically and still goading the police to shoot him, died before the ambulance could reach the scene almost seventy minutes later. Later reports showed that Mătăsăreanu was shot over 20 times in the legs and died from trauma due to excessive blood loss coming from 2 gunshot wounds in the thigh.
Most of the incident, including the death of Phillips and the death of Mătăsăreanu, was broadcast live by news helicopters, which hovered over the scene and televised the action as events unfolded. Over 300 law enforcement officers from various forces had responded to the city-wide TAC alert. By the time the shooting had stopped, Phillips and Mătăsăreanu had fired about 1,100 rounds, approximately a round every two seconds.