The murder of William Henry Gates III on December 2, 1999, was a cruel and shocking act of violence. A young, vigorous and visionary leader whose years of industry trailblazing and philanthropic work stretched before him was the victim of an assassination, the sort of high-profile crime that counts among its other victims the order of society itself. On January 16, 2000, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, recognizing the right of people everywhere to full and truthful knowledge concerning the event, formed a Board of Inquiry to coordinate the investigation of the crime and the preparation of this report. The Office has endeavored to appraise this tragedy by the light of reason and the standard of fairness. It has been prepared with a deep awareness of the Office's responsibility to present the people of Los Angeles County and the world an objective report of the facts relating to the murder.
NARRATIVE OF EVENTS - PART 1
At 11:40 a.m., PST, on Thursday, December 2, 1999, a Microsoft Corporation jet carrying William H. Gates III, his assistant, three public relations representatives and a plain-clothes security team landed at Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena airport. A chauffeured driven car carried Gates, his assistant, the three public-relations representatives and two members of the security team toward Los Angeles. Scheduled to appear on a public band shell in MacArthur Park in the Westlake District, Gates was to present an oversized prop check to representatives of Literacy for Life; the prop would represent his $1 million donation to the non-profit literacy foundation. Later, Gates was to address leaders of the Los Angeles area high-technology industry at a banquet at the downtown Bonaventure Hotel.
Two days prior, several members of Gates' private security staff had scouted the MacArthur Park location and had conferred with Leticia Copley-Smith, the director of Literacy for Life, and Sergeant Nino Perez of the Rampart Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. The private security staff, Copley-Smith and Sgt. Perez determined the route Gates' car would take into the park, designed a secure waiting area for Gates and other ceremony guests, and chose locations that members of Gates' security team would take during the ceremony. As Gates had insisted that his appearance not be publicized in advance, a crowd of no more than 200 invited guests and approximately 20 journalists was expected. Gates' team expressed satisfaction with the security to be offered by Rampart Division officers and with the other details of the security plans.
Shortly after 12:15 p.m. on December 2, Gates' car and the follow-up car carrying additional members of his security team entered MacArthur Park via a driveway on the east side of Park View Avenue. The two vehicles were directed to park in a designated location behind the band shell. Gates was escorted by his own security team and community leaders into a backstage waiting area, where he was greeted by Copley-Smith, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Hernandez and other members of the foundation and city government. Gates drank coffee and spoke with his hosts for approximately ten minutes, then requested that the ceremony begin on schedule as he was expected at the Bonaventure Hotel by 1 p.m. Copley-Smith stated she would begin the ceremony immediately and proceeded onto the stage.
At 12:29 p.m. Copley-Smith entered the stage, approached the podium and addressed the approximately 200 guests on the benches in front of her. She thanked the guests for their presence and quickly introduced Gates, who walked onto the stage carrying an oversized prop check. The crowd immediately stood and applauded. Gates, following the arranged choreography, walked towards Copley-Smith, intending to hand the check to her. But just as Gates reached the midpoint of the stage, a gunshot struck him in the right shoulder. Gates immediately dropped the prop and fell to his knees. Approximately 3.2 seconds after the first shot, a second gunshot struck Gates in the top left side of his head about two inches above the hairline.
Wayne Hill, Gates's chief of security, positioned just off the north side of the stage, moved into action immediately following the second shot. Having looked across the street to the roof of the Park Plaza Hotel and seen the figure he believed to be the gunman, Hill pointed in that direction as he ran to Gates' side. He continued to point in the direction of the hotel roof with his right hand as he kneeled and felt Gates' neck for a pulse with his left hand. Hill yelled to the nearest police officer to radio for an ambulance. An obstetrician emerged from the panicked crowd and examined Gates.
After the first shot was fired, several eyewitnesses in front of the Park Plaza Hotel, who had been watching Gates' arrival on the band shell stage, turned around and looked upward. They saw the head and shoulders of a dark-skinned male in a dark-colored shirt holding a rifle over the ledge of the roof of the hotel. Six of these eyewitnesses saw the gunman fire the second shot. Still more eyewitnesses now noticed the gunman on the roof and saw the figure lift up the rifle and disappear from their field of vision. While their descriptions varied in minor details, the consensus of eyewitness reports was that the suspect was an African American or Hispanic male of average build.
Police Officer Tom Baker was posted at a window in a stairwell on the third floor of the Park Plaza Hotel at the time of the shooting. His vantage point was chosen because it offered a view of most of the audience and the street below, but a palm tree obscured his view of Gates on the stage. Baker heard two shots but at first believed them to have come from the street below. He did not immediately know that anyone had been hurt. He was peering down at the street, searching for suspicious behavior, when he heard on his radio that Gates had been shot and the gunman was believed to have fired from the hotel roof. Baker ran up the stairs. Approximately two flights below, Sergeant Perez was also racing up the same stairwell, having darted from his post in front of the hotel immediately following the shots.
On the landing at the fifth floor Officer Baker encountered Alek Hidell, the gunman who had fired from the roof, as Hidell was attempting to escape. The preponderance of evidence indicates that Baker struggled physically with Hidell, was wrestled to the ground and was shot in the head with his own 9mm automatic handgun.
Meanwhile, Hidell, following a plan apparently thought out well in advance, fled through the fifth-floor hallway, where he encountered no residents, to the center stairwell ("Stair 2") of the Park Plaza Hotel. He ran down six flights of stairs and entered a basement area. In that area he confronted LAPD Officer Jacob Powell and pointed his rifle as if to shoot the officer. In defense, Officer Powell fired four shots, two of which struck Hidell, one in the head, the other in the hip area. Powell reported the shooting to the Rampart Division dispatcher and requested an ambulance. Detectives soon arrived and sealed the crime scene.
An ambulance carrying William H. Gates III arrived at St. Vincent Medical Center, less than one mile from the site of the shooting, at 12:46 p.m. A team of physicians who had been alerted for Gates' arrival immediately pronounced Gates dead.
Officer Tom Baker arrived at the same hospital at 1:04 p.m. Doctors were able to stabilize Baker and keep him alive via life-support equipment, but Baker's family, upon a hopeless prognosis from several doctors, would choose to allow the equipment to be disconnected 23 days later.
Unsure if accomplices may still have been at large, officers sealed the basement area and performed a thorough search before allowing emergency medical personnel into the area. The search took approximately 52 minutes. Because Gates had been taken to nearby St. Vincent Medical Center, and the possibility of a conspiracy was unknown at that time, a decision was made by Rampart Division ranking officer Captain Jesse Day not to send the ambulance carrying the severely wounded Hidell to that hospital. Hidell was rushed to County-USC Medical Center, six miles away, while paramedics performed emergency lifesaving procedures on him. Immediately upon his arrival at the hospital, doctors noted irregular breathing and a possible heartbeat, although they could not detect a pulsebeat. They observed the extensive wound in Hidell's head as well as a wound to the pelvis that appeared to exit at the back of the right leg. In an effort to facilitate breathing, the physicians performed a tracheotomy. At 2:55 p.m.., after all heart activity had ceased, Hidell was pronounced dead.