April 27, 2010 at 7:00 pm in Obituaries
Daryl Gates had been LAPD chief for about a year when Eula Love was gunned down by his police officers on January 3, 1979.
Eula Love was a 39-year-old mother living in the West Athens area of south Los Angeles near Hoover and 120th at 11926 S. Orchard Avenue, in a neatly kept bungalow on a street of neatly kept bungalows in a proud and quiet neighborhood. Eula Love was a widow. Her husband had died of sickle cell anemia six months earlier, leaving her to raise their three young daughters and make the mortgage payment and other ends meet on $680 a month in social security benefits.
Eula Love’s $69 gas bill had been past due for as long as her husband had been dead, and when a utility worker from the Southern California Gas Company showed up that afternoon to shut it off if she didn’t make a $22.09 payment, she became irrational and abusive. When he made a move toward the meter she picked up a shovel, struck him in the arm and then chased him off the property.
While the gas man was advising his superiors and making an assault complaint to the police Eula Love walked to a nearby market and purchased a money order in the amount of $22.09. Returning with it in her purse, she was verbally abusive toward a second gas company employee that had arrived and who she found sitting in a truck at 120th and Orchard. Leaving him she returned to her house only to emerge brandishing an 11 inch-long boning knife, 5 1/2 inches of which were handle.
Next came the cops.
Officers Edward Hopson and Lloyd O’Callahan arrived at 4:15 p.m. in response to a call about a business dispute. They found Eula Love in the front yard still holding the knife. Exiting their patrol car with guns drawn they ordered her to drop the weapon. Enraged, she did not comply. As they moved closer to her she called them homosexuals. Said they’d had sex with their mothers. Told them to kiss her ass. To shoot her. O’Callahan got close enough to Eula Love to knock the knife out of her hand, but not out of her reach. And when she came up with it the two officers spent the next four seconds emptying their six-shot revolvers. Eula Love was struck by eight of the bullets.
Think about that for four seconds, won’t you? Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. From eight of those explosions, Love took bullets in the right foot, lower left leg, three times in the left thigh, left upper arm, right thigh, and once in the chest. She might have survived those first seven, but the last one took that option away. She died on the grass in front of her home. Two of her daughters inside.
The L.A. County District Attorney’s office, in its report that included the testimony of 52 witnesses, concluded that what officers Hopson and O’Callahan did to Eula Love was not criminal.
Chief Gates’ behavior in the immediate aftermath, however, verged on it.
“I think they had every right and opportunity and justification to do what they did,” he said of Hopson and O’Callahan.
In the parlance, Eula Love’s death was soon departmentally ruled a “good shoot.” There was no mistake in judgment, no violation of LAPD policy, and an entirely unapologetic and seemingly unfeeling Gates relished the opportunity to go on the offensive in deflecting any shame or blame from the officers or his department.
“She decided to solve her problem with a knife,” Gates said. “That’s why it happened.”
Later on in a speech to the County Bar Association broadcast on local television he chided the press for “wringing every single drop, every tear” from the Love story. Sarcastically he referred to Love as “the poor widow trying to keep her house and home together.”
It wasn’t $22 she owed, Gates insisted, “it was a $64 or $67 gas bill that had been delinquent for six months!” As if such a negligible difference in amounts could somehow makes her death acceptable.
Rest in peace, Eula Love.
Primary source material: Regards: The
Selected Nonfiction of John Gregory Dunne.