At 10:01 AM, February 28, 1997, a shootout between two heavily armed bank robbers and officers of the Los Angeles police department came to an end after more than 2,000 rounds were fired. It is considered amongst one of the bloodiest shootouts in the history of the United States police force.
Larry Phillips Jr. and Emil Mătăsăreanu had been planning a robbery of the Bank of America in North Hollywood for months after meeting at a gym. Both men had accumulated a stockpile of body armor, weapons, and ammunition which could sustain them through an hour-long shootout. It is believed that both men had participated in bank heists before.
They arrived at the bank at 9:17 AM. Each took muscle relaxants to calm their nerves, and synchronized their watches before entering the bank. The two robbers entered the bank, ordered everyone to get on the floor, and opened fire into the ceiling to dissuade resistance. Having intimidated the customers, Phillips and Mătăsăreanu began shooting at the bulletproof door that gave access to the bank tellers and the vault. The door, which was only made to withstand small caliber ammunition, broke open after a few shots from their modified Type 56 rifles. The men forced the tellers to fill their bags with money from the safe. Soon the robbers realized that there was less money than they had expected because of a change in the bank delivery schedule. Mătăsăreanu became so enraged that he emptied a 75 round drum magazine into the vault, destroying the rest of the money. They were only able to obtain $303,305 rather than the expected amount of $750,000.
Their plan was beginning to fall apart, and the adrenaline partnered with the intense stress led the two men to unravel. Two police officers on patrol saw them enter the bank wearing ski masks and body armor, and carrying military grade rifles. The officers called in for backup, which responded within minutes and surrounded the bank. The police ordered both men to drop their weapons and surrender. Seeing no way to get away the men opened fire on the crowd of police officers.
Because of how heavily armed and protected they were it was nearly impossible to take the two men down. At the time LAPD officers were only equipped with Berretta M9FS 9mm handguns and S&W model 15 .38 revolvers which were no match for Phillip’s and Mătăsăreanu’s modified assault rifles. At about 9:52 AM Phillips and Mătăsăreanu split up. Phillips took cover behind a truck and continued to fire his rifle at police until it jammed. At that point he pulled out his Berretta M9FS handgun to continue his shootout with the police. He kept shooting until an officer managed to shoot him in the hand. Larry Phillips realized there was no hope left for him, so he took his Berretta to his chin and killed himself. Mătăsăreanu tried to escape by hijacking a civilian’s jeep. The owner of the jeep quickly removed the keys from it before Mătăsăreanu could get in. Mătăsăreanu got out of the jeep to take cover from police officers. SWAT members started shooting below the car and hit Mătăsăreanu’s unprotected legs. Emil Mătăsăreanu tried to surrender, but eventually died of trauma and blood loss.
At the end of that fateful day there were no fatalities except the robbers, though 18 people were injured in the assault. After the incident, the LAPD realized that their 9mm handguns were not going to suffice if there was a similar circumstance in the future, so they received 600 M-16 military rifles from the Pentagon. One year after the incident occurred, 19 LAPD police officers received Medals of Valor and were invited to meet President Bill Clinton. Despite the injuries, the shootout is regarded as a success for the police, who were severely out-gunned, and managed to prevent any civilian or officer fatalities.