California cops protest body armor ruling

January 6, 2010 7:12:43 PM PST
California law enforcement officials gathered in San Francisco Wednesday to express concern about a recent court ruling that overturned a ban on violent felons owning body armor.

The state Legislature passed the law banning violent felons from possessing body armor after a 1997 gun battle between two heavily armed bank robbers and police in North Hollywood. The officers' handguns could not penetrate the robbers' military grade body armor. The gunmen were finally killed after a 45 minute shootout.

In November 1994, Vic Lee Boutwell, a heavily armed transient dressed in full body armor, gunned down San Francisco police officer James Guelff during a shootout with police. He held 120 officers at bay for 37 minutes.

"They hit him numerous times and he just kept walking and firing at them," former San Francisco Police Captain Rich Cairns said.

Boutwell was finally killed by a police sharpshooter on the roof, whose bullet struck his shoulder in between his vest and his Kevlar helmet.

"A ballistics vest is an offensive weapon in the hands of a criminal," former San Francisco Police Chief Alex Fagan said.

But last month, the 2nd District Court of Appeals overturned the body armor law, saying the definition of body armor was too vague.

"To have this bill so cavalierly overturned is really disgusting," James Guelff's brother Lee Guelff said.

Wednesday at the site of the gun battle, San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon and elected representatives and police officials from around the state demanded that the court ruling be overturned.

"The current ruling is wrong headed, it defies common sense," Gascon said. "If a criminal wears body armor, he's using an offensive weapon."

District Attorney Kamala Harris said she will help draft new tougher legislation.

"Not only should we prohibit violent felons from being in possession from body armor, but all felons should be prohibited from being in possession of body armor," she said.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown says he will file an appeal with the state Supreme Court later this month.