On Friday, Nov. 15 around 6 p.m., near a Burger King along the border of Chinatown at the intersection of Grand and Cesar Chavez avenues, a taxi driver was found stabbed to death. The victim, 68-year-old Burbank resident Oganes Papzyan, was later pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.
The suspect in the stabbing, 32-year-old Daniel Victor Torres was taken into custody two days later and was arraigned for murder in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, Nov. 19.
The killing marked the latest in a particularly deadly four-month stint for Downtown Los Angeles. Since the start of August, eight people have been killed within the Central City. Overall, the killing marked the 15th homicide in Downtown since the start of the year, which has already surpassed last year’s mark of 13 at this time.
Unless the trend increases, Downtown will likely end below the stats from 2017, when 21 people were killed. Over the past 12 months, 18 people have been killed in Downtown.
Downtown is still below the 16 homicides committed through October 2017, but Central Division Capt. Timothy Harrelson said that while the homicides are concerning, there isn’t any pattern that explains the increase.
“We don’t have a serial killer out there,” Harrelson said. “We have people getting into arguments and getting into fights. People having issues with narcotic sales and transactions.”
The four-month string of killings started on Aug. 7, when three men struck a homeless man with a metal pipe. He would succumb to his injuries on Aug. 18. Three days later on Aug. 21, a man was shot to death on Long Beach Avenue.
On Aug. 27, Dwayne Dale Fields, a well-known musician living on the streets of Skid Row, died as a result of arguably the most gruesome of the murders when his tent was set on fire near Sixth and San Pedro streets.
Officers found Fields, body still ablaze, walking aimlessly down East Sixth Street according to reports. Since Aug. 27, there have been five additional killings. Since May, there has been at least one homicide in Downtown very month.
The majority of the homicides occurred on city streets, except for the Oct. 17 shooting of 42-year-old Wesley Drakes at the luxury Watermarke Tower apartments at Ninth and Flower streets, but outside of the locations, their hasn’t been much tying each case together that would inform any preventative measures.
So far, there have been homicides this year in every major neighborhood in Downtown except Bunker Hill and Chinatown.
“It’s been no pattern, no trend,” Harrelson said. “Nothing that we can tap into as far as putting out some preventative measures outside what we’re currently doing.”
“These All Appear to be Very Random”
The spike in homicides comes during a relatively average year for violent crime overall. Year to date, there has been 1,660 violent crimes in the Central Division, compared to 1,592 at the same time in 2018. The numbers are below the violent crime rate in 2017, which saw 1,765 violent crimes through from January 2018 to Nov. 2, 2018.
Harrelson noted that a few of the homicides began as arguments between homeless individuals, before escalating to a full on brawl. Others, like the homicide in South Park and the situation at the Watermarke, were related to narcotics.
“Dealing with narcotics is a dangerous world to be in,” Harrelson said. “But these all appear to be very random, and not connected in any way.”
On three occasions this year, an individual died because they hit their head on the pavement after being struck. That number includes Julius Realista Rondez, a 70-year-old Department of Water and Power employee who was struck in an unprovoked attack in July by a 22-year-old man. Harrelson noted the uniqueness of the situations, pointing out that it is typically rare for someone in Downtown to get into a fight, and ultimately die as a result.
“I won’t call it a freak occurrence, but for three people to get hit, fall and die from their injuries is kind of strange,” Harrelson said.
Hollywood resident Beverly Baker teaches a periodic non-physical self-defense course in Downtown that is geared around avoiding arguments and identifying cues from potential assailants.
Baker said that in recent months she’s noticed an uptick in the level of interest in her self-defense course, especially from businesses concerned for worker safety. In the course, she teaches students how to determine if someone is trying to target them, or the different street hustles used to lure in people as they walk down the street.
She said that in most situations, the best thing is to simply avoid the argument and keep moving to the destination.
“It’s more about mindset,” Baker said. “Kicking and punching is a great and valuable tool, but the reason I started this class is to help people who will never do that. I wanted to reach people who are uncomfortable with punching.”
Outside of a cafe on a recent Friday afternoon, Ryan Berry, a 53-year-old Echo Park resident who works in Downtown, said that he’s learned over his 16-years working in Downtown to simply walk away when situations start to get heated.
“It took me a minute, but I learned to ignore a lot of the things that people say,” Berry said. “Headphones help a lot.”
Victoria Tamba, a 32-year-old Downtown resident, was outside of that same cafe and said that although public safety concerns like assaults and homicides aren’t ultimately her “number one concern,” she’s aware that living in Downtown means that she needs to keep her head on a swivel.
“You never know what can happen,” Tamba said.
Although Harrelson said that a lack of awareness is not exactly a contributing factor to the homicides committed in Downtown this year, he added that it was a good rule of thumb to be aware of your surroundings no matter what situation you find yourself in.
“It’s just a matter of preventing yourself from becoming a victim,” Harrelson said. “Whatever crime, don’t allow yourself to be a victim.”
Harrelson said that so far, arrests have been made in 13 of the 15 homicide cases. He attributed the arrest rate to solid detective work from the homicide team and is confident that Central’s homicide detectives will be able to arrest the remaining two suspects.
“They are tireless,” Harrelson said. “They will work 365 days, 40 hours straight with no sleep because they won’t slow down before the lead slows down.”