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Autopsy finds toddler killed by LA police in shootout

Associated Press | July 14, 2005
By GREG RISLING

The police shooting of a toddler who was at times used as a human shield by her father has not only traumatized the child's family, but also the officers involved in the deadly gunbattle.

The family of 19-month-old Suzie Pena is coping with her loss and trying to understand why police didn't take more precautions during Sunday's shooting.

"The family has been in shock since their little angel was taken from them and it's compounded by the fact those officers who are there to protect us weren't able to protect this girl," said Luis Carrillo, one of the attorneys representing the girl's family. He said a funeral would likely be held Saturday.

Suzie died of a single gunshot wound to the head fired by a rifle from a police officer, according to a county coroner's report released Wednesday. Her father, Jose Pena, 34, died of multiple gunshot wounds, said coroner's spokesman Craig Harvey.

A toxicological examination to determine whether Pena had drugs or alcohol in his system will take several weeks, Harvey said.

Police Chief William Bratton sent his condolences to the girl's family but adamantly maintained that Pena was responsible for his and his daughter's deaths. Bratton said the realization that it was a police officer who actually shot the girl was hard to take, for both himself and his officers.

"Believe me, as chief of police, and for the officers involved, it is very tough to deal with that," Bratton said. Assistant Police Chief George Gascon added: "Some officers are going through therapy right now and I don't know if some will even come back (to work)."

Police were still trying to piece together the events that led up to the shooting at Pena's auto repair shop in South Los Angeles. The killings followed a nearly three-hour standoff in which Pena exchanged gunfire with officers three separate times.

Bratton said the shop contained a sophisticated video recording system, including nine cameras, that was in operation at the time. Police are reviewing about 25 hours of video footage that the chief called "very graphic."

One officer was wounded in the shoulder during the third and final exchange of gunfire between SWAT officers and Pena. Officer Daniel Sanchez, 39, has been released from a hospital and is recovering at home, police said.

Pena's 16-year-old stepdaughter, who escaped during the shootout, told police Pena had threatened to kill Suzie. Earlier in the day, Pena's wife had called 911 to report that he had threatened her life.

Police stormed Pena's business about 6:30 p.m. and he was pinned down in a small office. They would later find him and his daughter dead in that office.

Bratton said he expects that an investigation now under way will clear all of the officers involved in the gunbattle.

"There is nothing I'm aware of based on the investigation to date that would lead me to believe that there is any criminal actions that would arise out of this against members of the Los Angeles Police Department," he said.

When their investigation is completed, Bratton said, police will turn their findings over to the county District Attorney's Office, which will determine whether criminal charges are warranted, and to the Police Department's own use of force board, which will recommend to Bratton whether any officers should face internal discipline.

Bratton said he expects the investigation to take some time, adding that 11 police officers fired on Pena, 35 other officers witnessed the gunfight and at least 35 civilian witnesses saw it unfold. Police investigators plan to talk to all of them.

Investigators are also trying to locate two people who worked at Pena's auto repair business and left soon after the confrontation began.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said there will be a community meeting on Friday and urged people to reserve judgment until the investigation is completed.

"I am asking for the public's patience," he said. "It was a terrible night that ended in a terrible tragedy for this city."


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