March 3, 1983: Patrick Andrew Mason was too sick to go to school, and his mother Patricia Ridge, 29, had no one to care for him while she went to her job charging car batteries at a Sears store in Buena Park, so she left him alone in their apartment at 8101 Cerritos Ave. in Stanton, putting him in a bedroom with a TV set and tying the door shut with heavy string.
Patrick had been sick since late February, so Ridge bought him a set of police accessories based on the “T.J. Hooker” TV show — a red plastic gun, a badge and a baton — at a convenience store near their home.
The 8100 block of Cerritos Avenue in Stanton via Google Street View.
Ridge, an African American, had left Chicago the previous August in hopes of raising Patrick in a safer area. One of her friends had been unable to contact her for about two weeks, so on March 3, 1983, the friend contacted police to report the situation.
About 5:30 p.m., Police Officer Anthony Sperl, who had been with the department a little over a year, responded to the apartment, which was later described as being in an “anti-police” “gang-troubled” neighborhood.”
No one responded to his knocks and shouts, so he told the dispatcher he was leaving. But Sperl was ordered to stay while police contacted the apartment manager and arranged for her to unlock the apartment, which Times reporter Maura Dolan described as “dusty and sparsely furnished.” Sperl apparently thought that the apartment had been burglarized or vacated.
Apartment manager Anne Reid said Sperl did not ask who lived in the apartment, nor did she volunteer the information. With a gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other, Sperl entered the apartment. He heard noises coming from the bedroom and called out. “After receiving no reply, Sperl became ‘panicky.’ Fearing that he was being ‘set up,’ [he] kicked in the door, saw a figure pointing a gun at him and fired,” The Times said.
He said later that the room was only lit by a TV set and that he saw a figure with a gun, so he fired, killing Patrick Andrew Mason, 5.
The aftershocks of this tragic incident reverberated through the court system for years and raised the debates about latchkey children, officer-involved shootings and relations between white police officers and African Americans.
In September 1983, Sperl retired on disability from the department after the Orange County Grand Jury decided not to indict him in the killing. In 1986, Ridge dropped her $20-million wrongful death suit against Sperl and the city of Stanton, which agreed to pay her $395,000. A “Hill Street Blues” episode was based on the incident and CBS’ “60 Minutes” profiled the killing. There’s really a movie in this story for the right person.