The man who was shot by an officer after forcing a pregnant hostage out of the Mexican Consulate used a starter pistol, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said Wednesday.
Bratton said police are still puzzled by 19-year-old Manuel Ortiz Gonzalez’s motive, but praised the officers who responded quickly, surrounded the suspect and fired, freeing the woman.
The shooting was broadcast live on television Tuesday from at least two angles. A review of the footage showed that the officers “didn’t have the opportunity to take cover,” Bratton said Wednesday. “So in terms of operating extraordinarily well in difficult situation and circumstances I think they did a great job.
“They made the department look good because of individual actions. God knows what would have transpired if it had not ended as quickly as it had.”
Lt. Nick Zingo, head of the LAPD’s Davis Training Center and a firearms expert, said that starter pistols, which fire blanks, can cause serious, even deadly, injuries. At close range, the percussion from the detonation of a blank does create potentially deadly pressure, he said.
He cited the 1984 death of TV actor John-Erik Hexum after Hexum put a gun loaded with blanks to his head and fired during a break on the set.
Sgt. Hector Feliciano, 48, was identified by the LAPD as the officer who fired his handgun, striking Ortiz Gonzalez in the head. Feliciano is a former officer with the elite Special Weapons and Tactics team, which is specifically trained to handle kidnappings and hostage-takings.
Ortiz Gonzalez was in critical condition Wednesday in a hospital. The hostage, who worked as a clerk in the consulate, was not injured.
Bratton said the LAPD investigates all officer-involved shootings, and the inquiry into the consulate shooting is underway.
The incident began about 8:30 a.m. on the fourth floor of the consulate near MacArthur Park, when Ortiz Gonzalez shouted demands such as, “Call 911; I want the media,” and then dragged the clerk out of the building.
TV footage showed him with his arm around the woman’s neck, jamming an object against her back. According to law enforcement sources, Ortiz Gonzalez screamed, “Don’t come any closer or I’ll kill” the woman.
Bratton said the U.S. attorney’s office is expected to file federal charges against Ortiz Gonzalez because the incident began on Mexican sovereign territory.