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Autopsy: Actor killed by L.A. police shot in back

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LOS ANGELES, (Reuters) -- An actor killed by a Los Angeles police officer at a noisy Halloween party was shot three times in the back and once in the back of the head, according to an autopsy report obtained by the Los Angeles Times and published Tuesday.

The paper said that the wounds appeared to contradict police accounts that Anthony Dwain Lee, who carried a fake .357 Magnum gun as an apparent part of his Halloween costume, pointed the gun at Officer Tarriel Hopper, causing the patrolman to fear for his life and shoot in response.

Lee, a 39-year-old television actor, was killed Oct. 28 at a Halloween costume party at a mansion in Benedict Canyon. He was standing in a bedroom of the home with one of the party's hosts and a friend when Hopper and a partner walked around the side of the house to investigate a noise complaint.

Police said Hopper shined a light through a glass door into the room and that Lee pointed the fake gun at the light, causing Hopper to shoot him. An autopsy found that Lee had been shot from behind by four bullets with two in the back causing his death as they tore through vital organs, the Times said.

The coroner's report also found that Lee had cocaine and alcohol in his system at the time of his death.

A police spokesman had no immediate comment on the report, but Lt. Horace Frank told the Times the shots in the back could be explained. He added the department would first need to review the autopsy report.

Cameron Stewart, an attorney with the law firm of Johnnie Cochran Jr. which is representing Lee's family, told the paper that the actor "could not have withdrawn a gun from his waist and pointed a gun at the officer and then have been shot four times in the back. It's impossible."

Stewart said she was preparing a wrongful-death lawsuit related to the incident.

Lee was a practicing Buddhist and actor who appeared in the 1997 movie "Liar, Liar" and on such television shows as "NYPD Blue."

After his death hundreds of friends held a candlelight vigil outside the station where Hopper works, while Chief Bernard Parks held press conferences defending the 27-year-old Hopper, who has three years experience on the police force.

Critics of the department -- which is currently embroiled in the worst corruption scandal in its history -- called the episode yet another example in which an officer used excessive force in a situation that did not warrant it.

Last week, a 38-year-old mother of four lost an eye after an officer fired bean bags that hit her face during a car theft investigation because she did not lie on the ground as ordered.

Police said the officer feared she might be reaching for a concealed gun. She insists she was on her knees at the time with her hands in the air and wearing clothing so tight she could hide nothing.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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