The caravan of black-and-whites and undercover police vehicles rolled slowly north on Vesper Avenue in the early evening darkness, then took a right onto busy Vanowen Street in the heart of Van Nuys.
They rumbled on toward their target: An unassuming unit in a street-facing strip mall, in the 14500 block of Vanowen, its windows blacked out.
Inside, they believed, was an illegal, underground casino. How many people might be in there, they didn’t know.
The officers, armed with a search warrant, pulled up in front of the building and jumped out. Through a loudspeaker, they ordered everyone out.
Using a battering ram, one officer smashed through the front door of the makeshift casino with others following to swarm inside.
They pulled people out, detaining about three dozen, leaving them cuffed and lined up against a wall in an alley, mostly men, in their 20s to perhaps 50s.
“He fell from the ceiling,” an officer said over police radios, calmly — perhaps not the first time police have witnessed something like this.
“You get some guys trying to flee,” said Sgt. R.B. Parsekhian, the investigator coordinating the raid. “That’s why we plan to cover all the exits.”
Similar scenes have played out across the Valley, especially in the last three years, as Los Angeles police have sought to stem the tide of illegal, makeshift casinos, mostly operated by gangs, they say, offering gambling and drugs.