On February 28th, 1997, the sound of automatic gunfire filled the streets of North Hollywood as LAPD officers engaged in a firefight with two bank robbers.
Unlike so many other shootouts that start and end within a few minutes, the battle raged for almost an hour as nearly 2,000 rounds of ammunition were fired.
The Bank Robbery Begins
It all began at 9:17 AM when Larry Phillips Jr. and Emil Matasareanu entered the Bank of America on Laurel Canyon Blvd.
The two men, who met at a gym eight years earlier, were prepared with three Norinco Type 56 rifles, a Bushmaster XM-15 Dissipator, and an HK91 rifle, all modified for automatic fire.
Both men donned Type IIIA vests, and Phillips wore armor to cover his legs and forearms. It was clear that these men came expecting a fight with no intention of losing.
No matter how well prepared Phillips and Matasareanu were, an LAPD patrol car spotted the armed men immediately and called it in.
The situation continued to go south for the criminals, as the bank vault contained less money than expected and the bank manager had no access to the ATMs. Frustrated, Phillips emptied a 75-round drum into the vault, destroying the remaining money.
At 9:24 AM, Phillips and Matasareanu exited the bank to find themselves surrounded. The men began to dump automatic fire into patrol cars as officers returned fire.
The perpetrators were struck several times, but the 9mm and .38 caliber weapons used by police were unable to penetrate the armor. Automatic fire kept officers pinned down and prevented a clear headshot on either man.
As Matasareanu entered the getaway car 15 minutes later, a frustrated officer was heard saying, “there’s nothing we have that can stop them.”
Matasareanu drove slowly while Phillips walked along, using it as rolling cover to engage officers. As Phillips’ HK91 was struck by gunfire, he discarded it and began using one of the Type 56s while Matasareanu drove away.
When the Type 56 jammed, Phillips drew a Beretta 92FS but was shot in the hand. After picking up the pistol, Phillips shot himself under the chin.
Matasareanu’s vehicle was rendered inoperable and he took cover behind it as SWAT officers arrived. He was again struck several times in the chest, but protected by his armor.
The fight finally came to an end when a SWAT officer fired under the car, striking Matasareanu multiple times in the legs. The man raised his hands in surrender, begged for officers to shoot him in the head, and bled out.
Consequences of the Shootout
Somehow, Phillips and Matasareanu were the only deaths that day. But the wounding of 12 officers and eight civilians in the 45-minute battle led to serious changes.
After the North Hollywood Shootout, patrol officers around the country started receiving AR-15 rifles to better engage armored threats and SWAT teams began supplementing their CQB submachine guns with more high-powered firearms.
Today, every LAPD patrol car is equipped with AR-15s as standard issue.
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