Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council Hosts LAPD Forum on Shadow Hills Burglar/Prowler

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In a wonderful display of unity between the community and the officers who have sworn to protect them, the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council hosted a forum on Zoom with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Foothill Division Captain Johnny Smith, and other officers who were involved in the recent arrest of the Shadow Hills burglar/prowler Benjamin Renteria. Renteria was taken into custody on Wednesday, November 17 at approximately 10:30 pm. Captain Smith provided a detailed breakdown of the final moments of the search, as well as certain key aspects of the process of locating the suspect.

Captain Smith began the forum by citing two very important statistics for the Foothill Division as a whole. The division obtained and secured more guns than the other six San Fernando Valley Divisions combined, and has taken more guns off the street so far this year than in 2020. The next statistic is that the murder rate in the Division jurisdiction is down 50% over the last year. Captain Smith stated that he is very proud that he is seeing Foothill Division communities going against a troubling trend in LAPD jurisdictions, where the homicide rate has risen 50% over the last 2 years, as opposed to the decrease in rates in Foothill Division communities.

Regarding the Suspect Renteria, Captain Smith stated that they were first made aware of a troubling burglary trend in mid-October, when calls came in about burglaries where the suspect was seen holding a rifle. Captain Smith mentioned that they were able to obtain fingerprints from a second location where the descriptions matched. At that point, LAPD began to mobilize various operations and task forces to begin looking for this suspect, including gang and narcotics units to put assets on the street and have as many eyes on the situation as possible. Captain Smith mentioned that there is a benefit and detriment to having many marked LAPD vehicles present when trying to catch someone like this, and that it is a balancing act between keeping a uniformed presence nearby while undercover units are obtaining information.

On November 1st, the suspect obtained an AR-15 juggernaut assault rifle by breaking into a shed, and the LAPD ramped up their efforts to find him even more. On the evening of November 15th, the suspect was seen near the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power installation in the Shadow Hills mountains. Lieutenant Eddie Ginter explained that there was a perimeter set up to catch the suspect, but there was a perfect storm of events that allowed him to evade capture. A heavy fog was setting in that night, and though it would not reach the foothills, it was thick enough to ground all helicopters flying out of Los Angeles. The officers had to rely solely on their line-of-sight during the search in pitch black night. After hours of searching, they confirmed that the suspect had broken through the perimeter, but took valuable lessons from the search. Calls from the community the following morning allowed the LAPD to reframe their search and understand which direction the suspect was heading when he broke the perimeter.

Captain Smith noted that once the suspect evaded capture on November 5th, he became more public with the search and engaged the community more through social media and other outlets. He also noted that 2 handguns were located within the perimeter that had been set, and that fingerprints confirmed the identity of the suspect. On the night of the arrest, Captain Smith noted that there was a sighting of Renteria holding a rifle near the vicinity of Wheatland and Colebrook. LAPD had undercover assets nearby, both in the riverbed of the Tujunga Wash and on McBroom, and helicopters were deployed to the area. The suspect was spotted crossing McBroom heading towards the wash. Captain Smith noted that there were over 120 units situated all along the wash, and that they formed a perimeter from Hansen Dam up to the 210 Interstate Freeway. While heading in that direction, the suspect fired 4 shots in the air. Detective Craig Nollner, a Shadow Hills resident who is stationed within a different LAPD division, used his training and expertise to determine the approximate vicinity of the fired rounds and what direction they were fired in. He helped lead the search for the casings, and they were able to locate all four of them. Once it was confirmed that the suspect had entered the wash, Detective Nollner also assisted in securing the perimeter by identifying trails and routes that could be used by the suspect to double back and attempt to evade capture. In total, the numbers of police units from LAPD, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Rangers, and other agencies are estimated to be above 150 officers.

Having seen the suspect enter the wash, a very tight grid was set up near his point of entry, as he was seen military crawling into the brush. There were K9 units on site, and the lead K9, Dart, took off after the suspect. Captain Smith chuckled as he said, “There’s a reason his name is Dart.” when speaking about how far ahead of the handling officers he was when he caught the suspect. Renteria attempted to fight off the K9 unit, but as Captain Smith noted, Dart won the battle and seemed no worse for wear afterwards, whereas the suspect had to be transported to Pacifica Hospital. Later in the evening, the suspect also led officers to the location of the AR-15 juggernaut, which he had hidden in the bushes near homes in Shadow Hills.

Renteria is facing 10 major charges, including Assault with a Deadly Weapon, Multiple 1st Degree burglary charges, Assault with a Rifle, and Felon in Possession of a Firearm. These charges allowed the District Attorney’s Office to request bail be raised to $640,000 from its initial state of $240,000. The preliminary hearing is scheduled for January 6th 2022.

Captain Smith fielded questions from those in digital attendance, and was as open as he could be. Some of the notable questions and answer are below:

  • Aaron Schwartzbart asked if Captain Smith spoke to the suspect
  • “His words spoke volumes. I’m very glad this guy is off the street”
  • Terri M asked if the suspect was high on drugs, if he had accomplices, and if his cell phone was pinged to track him
  • Captain Smith stated that the suspect had not been tested, but from his experiences he believed he was high on methamphetamines. No cell phone was recovered, and there were no signs that he was working with accomplices.
  • Karen Von Gunten asked how the suspect was able to acquire so many guns
  • Captain Smith noted the importance of properly securing weapons, specifically stating that the AR-15 juggernaut was stolen from a shed that was locked with a Master lock.

Foothill Telegram Reporter Eric Owens also contributed to this article.

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