During a press conference Monday, Feb. 17, William M. Paparian, an attorney based in Pasadena, laid out the case of Ricardo Tapia who allegedly killed Giam Kim Hoang and injured Hoang’s wife on Dec. 20, 2013, after allegedly breaking into their Reseda apartment with a loaded gun.
In his remarks, Paparian stated that the tragedy of Dec. 20 could have been prevented if the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs had done its job and that the Los Angeles Police Department failed to properly carry out (1) the requirements of California law regarding firearms access to anyone who is involuntary held at a psychiatric facility and (2) the LAPD’s own written policy regarding search and seizure of weapons of anyone detained under the authority of Section 5150 of the California Code related to involuntary psychiatric holds.
Tapia, a decorated veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who was deployed three times to Iraq as a combat Marine and later served in the prestigious U.S. Marine Corps Embassy Security Group, enlisted with the rank of private in 2002, worked his way up the ranks and by 2010 had been meritoriously promoted to staff sergeant by the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.
He was recognized with the U.S. Marine Corps Meritorious Mast in April and June 2010 for superior performance as a member of the Embassy Security Group.
After being honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps in November 2010, Tapia completed a federal claim for disability benefits, citing classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, both of them a result of his three deployments to Iraq as a combat Marine. Paparian added that the VA eventually diagnosed Tapia with PTSD and TBI as a result of intense and repeated combat incidents and prescribed nearly two dozen medications to treat the symptoms of PTSD and TBI instead of looking into and treating the underlying causes.
On Dec. 1, 2013, Tapia began behaving erratically at home in his Reseda apartment and got the keys to his gun safe. His fiancA!Xe, Elizabeth Valdez, called 9-1-1. When LAPD officers arrived, they searched Tapia, handcuffed him and transported him to a VA hospital on a 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold.
Although they were required by California law as well as the LAPD written policy to confiscate any weapons as a result of the 5150 hold, Paparian said officers neither searched for nor seized Tapia’s handgun, a weapon that had been made known to them and confirmed in the police report.
After evaluating Tapia, VA hospital staff stated in writing that Tapia was at high risk to the safety of himself and others due to the presence of the handgun at home, then discharged him from the VA only 24 hours into the 72-hour maximum 5150 hold.
Valdez stated that during a follow-up visit two days later, two LAPD detectives told Tapia they could not seize the handgun and that Tapia had a right to bear arms.
On Dec. 20, according to Valdez, Tapia suddenly believed he was back in a combat zone after he heard a loud thump from the apartment directly above his. After telling Valdez to take cover because a war was starting, he allegedly carried the handgun left behind by LAPD officers, ran upstairs and broke the window to the upstairs apartment. He allegedly entered and began shooting.
He has been incarcerated at the L.A. County Jail on $4 million bail since that date and is without benefit of psychiatric care.
On Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 8:30 a.m. Judge Leslie Dunn of the Van Nuys Courthouse, Department 120 (criminal court), is scheduled to set a preliminary hearing for within 30 days. Paparian said he will ask Dunn to have the case transferred from the criminal court to Department 95 (mental health court) due to Tapia’s inability to participate in his own defense.