”When it starts happening in Trousdale Estates and Hancock Park, we’re in trouble,“ said radio station owner and Avant family friend Tavis Smiley
People wearing expensive jewelry, driving high-end cars and patronizing ritzy restaurants are among those being targeted in a spate of increasingly violent “follow-home robberies” around Los Angeles, prompting local authorities to step up resources to combat the alarming trend.
The shooting death of philanthropist Jacqueline Avant, wife of legendary music executive Clarence Avant, in a Dec. 1 break-in at the couple’s Beverly Hills home has also raised fear in entertainment circles and brought new urgency to solving these increasingly violent crimes.
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“It’s hard to believe someone would murder an 81-year-old woman in the middle of the night at Trousdale Estates,” said veteran radio host and Avant family friend, Tavis Smiley, in an interview with TheWrap. “It’s hard to wrap your mind around something so barbaric.”
Smiley noted that last week, a mother was robbed while pushing her baby in a stroller in well-to-do Hancock Park. He said it feels like he’s witnessing “the decay of our civilization and the devolution of our culture.”
“It’s one thing for it to happen in the ghettos and the barrios,” he said. “When it starts happening in Trousdale Estates and Hancock Park, we’re in trouble. We’ve got some work to do.”
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore last month announced the creation of a special “Follow-Home Task Force” made up of about 20 detectives from LAPD’s Robbery Homicide and other department divisions. The LAPD is investigating more than 100 follow-home robberies this year, with victims targeted while outside and then robbed as they arrive home or at their businesses.
LAPD’s Robbery Homicide Division “is assuming all these cases in the city of L.A. and making sure they’re handled appropriately and those involved are held accountable,” Lt. Ben Fernandes of the specialized division told TheWrap.
In Beverly Hills, the community of about 530 homes where Avant lived is “all very upset” about her death, said Alan Berlin, president of the Trousdale Estates Homeowners Association. He noted the community doesn’t generally have this kind of violent crime.
“The way things are in the world, you can’t prevent some nut with a gun (from) attacking a home,” he said, adding that details have so far been sparse in the case.
Some residents in their community, including the Avants, have private security, he said.
“I know Mrs. Avant was a much loved person,” he added. “My wife met her many times and had been in the home. She was highly thought of in the whole community, not just in Beverly Hills or Trousdale.”
Avant’s death came just weeks after “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Dorit Kemsley was held up at gunpoint and robbed at her Encino home in October. TV host and actor Terrence Jenkins narrowly escaped an attempted follow-home robbery last month in Sherman Oaks, in which he said the suspects shot at him.
Despite these high-profile crimes, local authorities insist there’s no evidence indicating that criminals are targeting Hollywood insiders or those in the entertainment industry.
“The only thing that we’re sure of is that they’re targeting people displaying wealth, people with Rolex watches, expensive jewelry, expensive purses, driving high-end cars,” Fernandes said. “I wouldn’t say they’re targeting any specific kind of person. We’ve had folks in the entertainment industry. We’ve had normal folks. We’ve had rappers. Really it’s all walks of life. The common factor is wealth.”
Fernandes added that people are being targeted from “high-end locations” on L.A.’s west side, downtown and other affluent areas. The victims are identified by “criminal elements” and then followed to their homes or robbed on side streets at gunpoint, he said.
LAPD Hollywood Division officers arrested Avant’s suspected killer, 29-year-old Aariel Maynor of Los Angeles, at about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, following an unrelated burglary in the 6000 block of Graciosa Drive in the Hollywood Hills, Beverly Hills police Chief Mark Stainbrook announced Thursday. Stainbrook said Maynor shot himself in the foot at the Hollywood Hills location about an hour after Avant was shot. Maynor was hospitalized and investigators recovered an AR-15 style rifle at the second home, that was believed to have been used in the Beverly Hills shooting.
Beverly Hills detectives responded to the Hollywood incident and said they’ve collected evidence linking Maynor to the shooting death of Avant, 81, who was the mother of Democratic fundraiser and producer Nicole Avant, wife of Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos.
Maynor, a parolee, has an “extensive criminal record,” Stainbrook said last week. The motive, including whether this might have been a follow-home robbery or a home invasion, was still under investigation.
“We haven’t determined the reason why he was at (the Avant) house,” Beverly Hills Police Department spokesman Lt. Giovanni Trejo said Friday. “Until we speak to him, interview him, we won’t be able to say why he was in there.”
The police spokesman noted that they’re also developing additional information by other means as to why the shooting occurred. Trejo, however, said that he’s noticed an uptick in street robberies in Beverly Hills more than in home invasions.
In recent weeks, BHPD has increased patrols in certain areas, which they normally do during the holiday season. Because of the street robberies and some attempted burglaries in their business district, police have also increased the number of armed private security in the district. Five new officers are additionally joining BHPD on Monday, the city said.
Najee Ali is a Los Angeles activist and community relations ambassador with Operation Hope, a nonprofit working to empower low and moderate-income youth and adults. Ali called the recent spate of follow-home robberies, home invasions and homicides “very troubling and disturbing.” He said he personally hadn’t seen this type of rise in crime in the area before.
“We have these young people who seem to be too lazy to just get a job to feed themselves,” he said. “They’d rather follow those who are affluent and appear to have resources and take those rather than have earned it through hard work and sacrifice.”
The solution, he said, is to encourage young people to get entrepreneurial or job training and get them into the workforce. The COVID pandemic has likely contributed to the spate in crime with young people being largely confined for more than a year before establishments opened up again, particularly for those who are vaccinated. Meanwhile, PPP loans and other support programs are ending, he said.
Ali said Avant, along with her surviving husband, were well-known figures in civic and entertainment life in Los Angeles. He met her at various fundraising dinners and said she was one of the “sweetest souls you’ll ever meet.” Avant was a multimillionaire who “rolled up her sleeves” and worked in disadvantaged neighborhoods, including Watts, to improve the lives of residents, he said.
Smiley, owner of KBLA Talk 1580 Los Angeles, first met Avant while working as one of former Mayor Tom Bradley’s aides nearly 30 years ago and has been friends with the family ever since. He said their influence has reached far and wide in Los Angeles and well beyond, covering nearly every sphere of human endeavor – including philanthropy, politics, art, music, social justice, and entertainment.
“It’s not just a tragic loss; it’s a monumental loss,” he told TheWrap.
Authorities are reminding people to put down their phones and other devices in public, be aware of their surroundings and to immediately call police – rather than a family member or friend – if they think they might be followed or in any kind of danger.
Anita Bennett contributed to this report.
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