FBI to Probe Child’s Death in Watts

Times Staff Writer

The FBI has opened a preliminary inquiry into the shooting death of Suzie Marie Pena, the 19-month-old child killed during a police gunfight with her father last month, a bureau spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The announcement came as the Los Angeles County coroner released a report showing that the toddler’s father, Jose Luis Pena, had significant amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine in his system when he took the child hostage and exchanged gunfire with police during a 2 1/2 -hour standoff.

Pena and his daughter were killed by high-velocity police rifles after Los Angeles Police Department SWAT officers stormed a makeshift office at Pena’s Watts auto dealership in an attempt to rescue the toddler, authorities said.


The shooting angered some in the community, who questioned officers’ haste in shooting the father instead of engaging in further negotiations to win the child’s release.

Police Chief William J. Bratton has called the shooting a tragedy, saying SWAT officers were distraught over the death of the child.

One officer was wounded in the final gunfight.

Bratton has also lashed out at Pena, calling him a “coldblooded killer” who used his daughter as a shield during the gunfight.

Bratton said the father was responsible for his own death and that of his daughter.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said the inquiry was initiated by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in Washington in the wake of community protests.

An attorney for Suzie’s mother, Lorena Lopez, had called for a federal inquiry, saying Los Angeles police were unable to investigate themselves.

Mary Grady, an LAPD spokeswoman, said Wednesday that the department would “fully cooperate in any inquiry by the FBI” into the July 10 shooting.


“The department maintains a position of transparency and will respond to all inquiries by the FBI for information and documents related to this shooting,” she said.

“The department remains confident the inquiry will determine that no civil rights violations occurred.”

Pena’s toxicology results came as no surprise; police already said they had found cocaine and a half-empty tequila bottle when they stormed the office.

The report indicated, however, that some of the cocaine had not yet metabolized when Pena died, indicating that he may have ingested the drug during the gun battle.

Suzie’s toxicology report, released earlier, suggested that she had ingested a trace amount of cocaine at least a day before her death.

The report on Pena stated that there were 6.9 micrograms per milliliter of cocaine in his blood, along with a trace amount of methamphetamine. His blood-alcohol level was 0.03%, within the legal driving limit.


The father was hit by six shots: two to his skull, two to his abdomen, one to his left leg and one to a finger on his left hand. An old rusted bullet was also recovered from his left foot.

Pena was found behind a desk with a 9-millimeter handgun next to his left hand.