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Nice to see the officers getting back up in this situation!

Los Angeles Police Chief Defends Officers Who Fired on Gunman Holding Toddler

Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A toddler girl was shot and killed when her intoxicated father used her as a shield during a fiery gunbattle with police following a standoff that lasted three hours, authorities said.

Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton said Monday that his officers were well within department policy when they shot car wash owner Jose Raul Pena, 34, on Sunday. Pena also was killed; an officer was shot in the shoulder but was expected to recover.

''You aren't going to stand there with somebody shooting at you,'' Bratton said. ''The person responsible for any loss of life ... was the individual who held his child out as a shield and continued to shoot.''

The 19-month-old child's mother, Lorena Lopez, said she pleaded with officers to hold their fire.

''He had problems with depression, his business was not doing well,'' Lopez told KNBC-TV. ''I told them that he needed help, he needs a psychologist, but please don't shoot. They didn't understand, and the police fired, like, 300 shots.''

Autopsies will determine whether the bullet that killed the toddler was fired by police or her father. Police spokesman Kevin Maiberger said 11 officers fired during the standoff, but it was not immediately known how many shots they took.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the officers were only trying to protect themselves and the public.

''My heart is out to a grieving mother who's lost her child. My heart is also out to those officers who put their lives on the line,'' Villaraigosa said. ''Not a one of them went into that situation with the intent to hurt anyone. They were doing their jobs.''

The standoff started when officers were called to an intersection in South Los Angeles west of Watts where Pena was behaving erratically and aggressively.

He fired at the officers and ran inside a fenced area that included his apartment and his car wash and detailing business. He had a 9 mm handgun and a shotgun and was intoxicated on drugs and alcohol, police said.

Police called in a special weapons team and tried to talk to the man. At one point, as officers helped a neighbor escape, he fired at them and they fired back, police said.

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Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
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Los Angeles Times

July 12, 2005 Tuesday
Home Edition

Grieving Police Provide Account of Fatal Standoff;
Villaraigosa asks for patience in the probe of the death of a gunman and his young daughter.

Jill Leovy and Natasha Lee, Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles police said Monday that the shootout that left a 19-month-old toddler dead occurred after officers attempted to rescue the girl by storming the used car dealership where her father was holding her hostage.

The decision came more than two hours into Sunday's standoff when officers believed they had wounded Raul Pena and hoped they could save Susie Lopez, a pigtailed little girl whose somber face adorned magazine ads for his car lot.

But instead of rescuing the girl, officers found themselves in a harrowing gun battle inside the business' cramped office. The gunfire ended with the suspect dead, an officer wounded, and Susie lying on the floor, shot in the head.

The office was peppered with more than 60 bullet holes. One shot pierced a photo of Susie that Pena kept on his wall.

These were among new details offered Monday as officials tried to explain how the Watts shootout ended with the death of the hostage whom officers were trying to save.

But police were not able to answer two central questions in the case: When the girl was killed, and who fired the shot.

Police Chief William J. Bratton insisted Monday that the officers had no choice but to enter the building, saying that Pena, who police on Sunday had identified as Jose Raul Lemos, had repeatedly fired into the street, holding the girl in front of him and threatening to kill her.

The girl's family disputed many details of the police account, arguing that the situation could have been resolved peacefully.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for the public to await the outcome of an internal police investigation into the shooting, and declined to comment on officers' tactics.

Villaraigosa said the shooting was a tragedy and offered condolences to the girl's family, adding that officers had not intended for her to die.

"Not a one of them, not a one of them went into that situation with the intent to hurt anyone," Villaraigosa said. "They were doing their job ... we don't know exactly what happened, but we do know this: There was a man with a firearm shooting at the public, shooting at officers."

Bratton also offered condolences to the family but said that Pena is responsible for the girl's death, and condemned what he called the father's "callousness" and "cowardice."

The SWAT officers involved in the standoff were taking the girl's death hard, police said, noting that it was the first time since 1980 that a hostage has died in an LAPD standoff.

"This has been extraordinarily traumatic for them, wondering if they possibly contributed to the death of a child," Bratton said.

"I am here to tell you they are in pain right now," added Police Capt. Scott Kroeber. "They are human."

Police officials offered the following account of Sunday's shooting:

They said that Southeast Division patrol officers got an "unknown trouble" radio call about 3:50 p.m.

They arrived at 10420 S. Avalon Blvd. in Watts, where they confronted an agitated Pena outside Raul's Auto Sales.

Seeing that Pena had a gun, the officers called for backup.

When additional officers arrived, Pena shot at them and officers returned fire. Pena retreated into his auto business and reemerged with the child in his arms. He continued firing at the officers, who pulled back. Pena went inside.

That began a standoff in which Pena remained barricaded inside, surrounded by police and occasionally taking random potshots through the walls and out the doors of the building.

About 5 p.m., officers reached Pena by phone and tried to negotiate with him to release his daughter.

Shortly after, Pena's 17-year-old stepdaughter emerged from the dealership, caught behind a metal fence near the building.

Some officers moved forward to rescue the stepdaughter while others tried to keep Pena distracted on the phone. But as the police pried open the gate, Pena emerged with the toddler again and fired at them. Officers returned fire and succeeded in removing the stepdaughter.

By 5:40 p.m., police elevated the standoff to a tactical alert. Negotiations continued with Pena, who was also reportedly speaking on the phone to family members and neighbors during the standoff.

About 6:30 p.m., a SWAT officer in an armored vehicle known as a BearCat saw Pena at the back door of the building next to the closed garage door of the auto shop's repair bay.

Initially, police officials said Pena had his daughter in his arms at that point. But later, officials said they were unsure where the girl was.

Officers fired at Pena, who appeared to return fire, then fell back. He retreated into the office.

Thinking Pena was hit, officers decided to make their move by storming the building.

But when officers got inside, they realized that Pena, far from being disabled, had managed to retreat into the small, walled office at the front of the repair bay, and was firing at them through the walls.

The officers advanced toward him, according to Police Lt. Michael Albanese, who oversees the SWAT unit.

He said they held their fire even as bullets whizzed by them, trying to reach the open door of the office so that they could see Pena and the toddler.

As they advanced, the officers prepared to launch a flashing device to distract Pena. Just then, a bullet from within the office struck Officer Daniel Sanchez, 39, through the shoulder.

The other officers pressed forward toward the office's open door, and exchanged gunfire with Pena in the cramped interior.

Pena was felled by one bullet, got up and was shot a second time.

What remains unclear is whether the little girl was already dead when they reached the office, or whether she died with her father in the ensuing shootout, said Lt. Paul Vernon, a police spokesman.

Pena's family members gave a starkly different account of the toddler's death.

Relatives from both sides of her family said that Pena was an affectionate and involved father. They insisted he would never have harmed his daughter. They said he would not have used Susie as a human shield, and while they acknowledged that he kept a gun in the auto dealership, they said that he was trying to surrender when police shot him.

"I don't want an apology. I want justice," said Lorena Lopez, the girl's mother.

Pena's brothers told reporters that he was from El Salvador and had served in that country's military during its civil war.

He came to the U.S. more than a dozen years ago and started the used car and repair shop, but his business had fallen on hard times and he had been depressed, they said.

Authorities said they don't know of a motive for the events of Sunday. Vernon said that on Saturday, Pena was served with a restraining order related to a child molestation allegation.

A total of 11 officers fired their weapons during the standoff. A total of more than two dozen officers were involved in the incident.

The officers actions are being investigated by the Police Department's Force Investigation Division, Bratton said.

The Inspector General's office and the district attorney's office will monitor the investigation.

All shootings are referred to the district attorney's office for potential criminal charges, but it falls to the Police Commission to decide whether a given shooting lies within department policy. Investigations typically take several months.

After the police tape was cleared away late Monday, members of both sides of the toddler's family entered the bullet-riddled auto dealership to search for mementos of their loved ones.

There were dozens of bullet holes in the building -- puncturing doors, walls, even the trash bin in back. Blood-spattered car purchasing contracts littered the floor, and one relative found a small piece of Susie's hair, and kept it as a remembrance.

They said the toddler was just beginning to talk, and already loved horses.

"My little niece -- she didn't live for very long, but she was beautiful. She was happy," said Pena's younger brother Jose German Pena.


Times staff writers Richard Winton, Richard Fausset, Veronica Torrejon and Caitlin Liu contributed to this report.

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Toddler Had Cocaine In Her System

LOS ANGELES -- A 19-month-old girl who was killed last month during a police shootout in Los Angeles had small amounts of cocaine in her system.

That according to a report from the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office.

Suzie Pena was shot in the head and leg by police after her father opened fire on officers who had cornered him in his Watts auto repair business.

Police found traces of cocaine and a partly empty tequila bottle in the office where Jose Pena had tried to hold officers off.

A spokesman for the coroner's office said the toddler probably got cocaine in her system through skin contact or breast feeding or by inhaling smoke from a user.

The girl was fatally shot while in her father's arms. He was also killed.
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