May 17, 2021 #1 Local News, Forum, Information and Event Source for Venice Beach, California.

SWAT Tear Gas Trailer in Seven-Hour Venice Standoff

Standoff between police and barricaded suspect over the weekend at First Baptist Church

By Sam Catanzaro 

An over seven-hour standoff involving police and a suspect barricaded in a trailer occurred in Venice over the weekend at First Baptist Church. 

According to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the incident took place on Saturday morning in the parking lot of First Baptist Church at 685 Westminster Avenue. Officials say the suspect reportedly threatened to kill a tow truck driver hired to remove the trailer, which had been in the parking lot since February, according to Patch, who also reports the suspect was a homeless man from Colorado. 

Police responded, set up a perimeter and attempted to convince the man to exit the RV. The suspect, however, did not comply and barricaded himself in the trailer. Unconfirmed reports on the Citizen App say that there was a woman in the trailer as well. LAPD SWAT was called to the scene and eventually used tear gas to remove the man, ending an over seven-hour standoff. 

The LAPD could not immediately confirm if the suspect was homeless and have not released his identity yet. 

The church the parking lot is attached to has been the subject of much attention the past few years. 

Jay Penske–son of automotive billionaire Roger Penske– and his wife Elaine wanted the to convert the church into a single-family home with a rooftop deck. In 2015 they bought the church for $6.3 million from First Baptist Church of Venice Bishop Horace Allen after the congregation voted 41-9 in favor of selling the church, a sale that a judge later ruled was fraudulent, but a done deal. Allen has since moved the congregation to Westchester. 

Penkse later sold the church to Lee Polster and Robert Thibodeau last year. In October 2020, just as the sale was being finalized, an unknown suspect set the church on fire. In it unknown if these two events are related. 

As reported by Patch, nearby residents say that someone attached to Penske’s company put the trailer  that was involved in Saturday’s standoff in the parking lot, along with other similar vehicles. This could not be verified by officials. 

Local activists have long been trying to save the church which has deep historical ties to Venice’s African American community. An appeal filed last year to stop Penske’s former plan argued the church–founded in 1910– is a historical resource and its conversion into a single-family home would degrade the character of the surrounding Oakwood neighborhood.

 “The First Baptist Church was the place that helped represent, unify and strengthen the community throughout the years, from the early 1900s when the first African Americans came to work in Venice and had to cling together, to barter their services, worship together and survive. With First Baptist Church as their rock, the African American people survived through the hardships and aftermath of wars, the great depression, and the daunting years of civil, economic and infrastructure neglect by the City of Los Angeles,” the appeal read.

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