A Pico Rivera grandfather who was mistakenly killed by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy last week was shot in the forehead at fairly close range, even though he weighed about 50 pounds more than the 24-year-old gang member who took his wife hostage, officials said Thursday.
At a news conference, interim Sheriff John Scott said the deputies involved in the hostage standoff at the victim's home are "traumatized" from the incident on Friday.
"This was a highly dynamic event in which deputy sheriffs were forced to make split-second decisions in an effort to rescue family members from the home," Scott said. "The outcome was the heartbreaking death of an innocent man. As you can all imagine, the deputies involved in this event are devastated."
It was the second time in four months that a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy mistook a victim for a suspect, both with tragic results. In the April incident in West Hollywood, a TV production assistant was hit in the chest when three deputies fired on him as he and another hostage rushed out of an apartment unit where they were being held. A second hostage was shot in the leg but survived.
Early Saturday morning at the Mendoza residence, deputies also killed the hostage-taker, Cedric Ramirez, who fired on them during the eight-hour standoff and had been on the run since deputies found him driving a stolen car containing a pistol and a rifle.
On Friday about 5 p.m., Ramirez broke into the Mendoza residence on Rosehedge Drive after firing at sheriff's deputies from the driveway of a different home.
Ramirez exchanged gunfire with deputies at the back of the house. Within seconds, Scott said, a deputy positioned in the front yard saw a man heading toward the front door.
Thinking the man was Ramirez, the deputy fired from a distance of about 15 to 18 feet.
But it was Frank Mendoza, 54, described by a neighbor as a baker who liked to tinker with cars. Mendoza was the grandfather of two children evacuated from the home and the husband of the 60-year-old woman taken hostage.
Mendoza was about 5 feet 7 and a little over 200 pounds, while Ramirez was a similar height, 155 pounds and 30 years younger.
An autopsy report showed Mendoza was shot once in the forehead and once in the leg, Scott said.
The Sheriff's Department is helping the Mendoza family with housing and funeral costs, Scott said.
"They've been through a lot, and we were responsible in large part," Scott said. "But as I said in the beginning, let's not forget this suspect that started this whole thing."