Investigators: An Unexpected Turn

Real Life CSI At Work In Los Angeles

Tucked away on a narrow street, in the exclusive Benedict Canyon section of Los Angeles, sits a slightly run-down mansion known locally as "The Castle."

Two years ago, a Halloween party there turned deadly. The victim: A 39-year-old actor named Anthony Dwain Lee. The shooter: A third-year Los Angeles police officer named Terriel Hopper.

Correspondent Harold Dow reports on this story, first broadcast in March.

It was a fatal shooting that still haunts people today. How could it have happened? Tom Streed, a former homicide detective turned forensic investigator, is trying to figure that out.

Streed specializes in crime-scene reconstruction. It's his job to put all the pieces of evidence together, and come up with a theory on how this fatal shooting occurred. This could be his biggest case.

The incident began in the early morning hours of Oct. 28, 2000. Hopper and his partner responded to a neighbor's complaint about noise coming from a Halloween party at The Castle.

Upon arriving, the officers entered the house and began searching for the owner. Hopper shined his light into one room. One of the partygoers in that room, with his back turned toward Hopper, was Lee.

"He looks around and spots the flashlight and sticks his hand into his waistband and starts to pull the weapon. And at this point, Officer Hopper drew his weapon and began firing," says Streed.

Within seconds, Hopper fired all nine rounds in his semi-automatic handgun. Four of the shots hit Lee, killing him instantly.

There was a tragic discovery: The gun that Lee was allegedly pointing at the officer turned out to be a replica of a .357 Magnum, a movie prop worn by Lee as part of his Halloween costume.

Lee was an actor whose career was beginning to heat up. He'd had a small role in "Liar, Liar" with Jim Carrey, and regularly appeared in television dramas.

"He was really talented, really smart, really ambitious. He was a very good, very, very good brother," say Lee's younger sister, Tina.

Tina has never been satisfied with the official police version of her brother's death: "They've always made statements or claims that somehow my brother was to blame for this happening."

But her doubts became even stronger after the autopsy, which showed her brother had been shot in the back four times.

"We're talking about four shots that struck this individual in the back side of his body, three in the upper portion of his back and one time in the back of the head. That's an awful long period of time presenting his back to the officer," says Streed.

Tina hired Johnnie Cochran, who filed a multi-million dollar wrongful death suit against the LAPD and Hopper.

"Nobody's saying that this particular officer, Hopper, got up, went to work that evening and said, 'I'm going to go out and shoot somebody,'" says Cochran. "But he was negligent. He violated his own rules. And the thing that probably troubles me as much as anything, the LAPD found this shooting within policy."

In fact, separate investigations by the LAPD and the district attorney's office concluded that Hopper was justified in his use of deadly force. No criminal charges were filed against him.

Streed also points out an apparent contradiction between Hopper's statement after the shooting and the coroner's report.

"Officer Hopper stated that the entire time he fired at Mr. Lee, Mr. Lee was posing a threat. The problem with that is that the gunshot wounds were in Mr. Lee's back," says Streed.

"He couldn't turn around and get his back to this officer by the time he shoots," adds Cochran. "That's ridiculous. So, he's lying. He's lying."

The Los Angeles police department turned down a request for an interview with them and Hopper.

However, they have one expert who thinks he can explain why Lee was shot in the back.

Bill Lewinski teaches law enforcement at Minnesota State University, and has spent years doing time-analysis research on the moves suspects make when they pull guns on cops.

The LAPD heard about Lewinski's research and contacted him. "The shooting fits very closely with one of the motions that I study," says Lewinski, citing the "180-degree turn to square back position."

"We need to take a look at two things here: How long it takes to pull the trigger, and how quickly someone can do that turn," he adds.

Ballistics tests conducted by the LAPD estimated that it took officer Hopper about two seconds to draw and fire all nine shots.

But only four of the nine shots hit Lee. "I believe those five shots were the first five rounds that were fired," says Lewinski. "And the last four rounds were the ones that impacted on Mr. Lee. He had to have time to make the turn."

Could Lee have made a 180-degree turn in the time it took Hopper to fire the first five rounds - about one second? Lewinski says it takes the average subject half a second, giving Lee more than enough time to have turned his back square to officer Hopper.

"The first five rounds fired caused Mr. Lee to realize that this was for real. And he had to get out of there. And then he moved into the shots as he was turning," says Lewinski believing that the quick turn make it appear as though the officer shot him in the back when there was no longer a threat.

"This is not a blanket excuse for cops shooting people in the back. But it does explain how an officer could see a situation, justifiably shoot at the subject that's presenting the threat and yet have a vastly different outcome," says Lewinski.

Streed, however, disagrees with Lewinski's analysis.

"The one factor that is etched in granite is that the person had their back to the shooter at the time they were shot," says Streed. "He could have been hit in the back with one shot. Missed with the next two. Struck by the third or fourth shot. It's just not knowable."

Even if Lewinski's theory is correct, it still doesn't explain why Hopper fired all nine rounds in his handgun.

"These weapons are fired in bursts of two or three and then you assess the necessity for additional shots," says Streed. "And the officer didn't do that. He stood in the front of this glass doorway and fired nine shots."

"Firing through glass with the muzzle flash, that many rounds occurring so quickly, could he stop the action?" asks Lewinski. "Two seconds. We're expecting a lot from someone when they're facing their own death."

But Streed and Lewinski do agree that the shooting was a tragedy. "I don't have any doubt in my mind that Anthony Lee thought the officer was somebody from the Halloween party, and that's why he did what he did," says Lewinski.

"There's no reason that anyone would pull a fake weapon and point it at a police officer under these circumstances. What occurred was an absolute tragedy," says Streed.

"It's a tragedy like so many officer-involved shootings are," says Lewinski. "A tragedy for the officer, tragedy for the department, the community, and most of all, for Mr. Lee and his family."

Tina Lee's wrongful-death suit against Hopper and the LAPD was settled in February, more than two years after Lee was killed. The agreed-upon amount of $225,000 was far less than she had originally sued for, but for Tina, it's not the money but the message that matters.

"If it makes them hold their officers just a bit more accountable, if they take more seriously investigating officer-related shootings, then at least it's a step in the right direction," says Tina.