Panel to consider LAPD’s role in toddler’s death

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Police Commission meets Tuesday to decide whether police officers followed policy in the shooting death of toddler Suzie Pena.

An attorney for the child’s mother is urging the panel to send a strong message to officers by concluding that the use of force was improper, and imposing discipline.

The girl was fatally shot in the head in July 2005 by a bullet from the rifle of a SWAT officer as her father, Jose Raul Pena, held her in his arms while repeatedly firing on officers and civilians from inside his used-car business, according to police accounts.


Luis Carillo, an attorney for the mother, said officers acted recklessly in storming the small office with high-powered rifles to end a 2 1/2 -hour standoff.

“My message to the commission is if they look at this with an objective eye, they should find that the tactics of storming the little office and using a flash-bang grenade and high-powered rifles was completely out of policy and against the law,” Carrillo said.

Lorena Lopez, the child’s mother, is not only seeking disciplinary action against the officers involved but also a change in department policy to prevent similar shootings from happening in the future, Carillo said.

The commission has scheduled a special meeting for 8:30 a.m. at Parker Center to hear public testimony on the case before going into a closed-door session to hear the recommendation of Police Chief William J. Bratton.

Bratton has previously insisted that Pena alone was responsible for the 19-month-old child’s death because he used her as a shield as he sprayed the neighborhood and officers with gunfire from inside the building.

Bratton will submit a recommendation to the commission based on the findings of the department’s Use of Force Review Board, which based its ruling on an investigative report by the Force Investigation Division, according to Richard M. Tefank, executive director of the commission.

The commission can then either adopt the chief’s recommendation or issue different findings on whether officers acted according to policy in drawing their weapons, their use of tactics and firing their weapons, Tefank said.

In the last high-profile case, the commission, headed by longtime civil rights leader John Mack, decided in February to reject Bratton’s recommendation and ruled that the officer who fatally shot 13-year-old Devin Brown after a brief chase violated department rules and should face discipline.

Even if the commission finds officers acted according to policy, they may order that officers undergo additional training.

A public announcement of the findings is likely, but the Police Commission, citing advice from the city attorney, has stopped identifying the officers involved in shooting incidents when they issue their reports on whether shootings violated department policy.

The Pena case is one of the most complex investigated by the LAPD’s year-old division.

The standoff involved 24 police officers, 10 police sergeants, two lieutenants and a captain.

The investigation involved more than 80 interviews with witnesses, 36 DNA tests and ongoing microscopic analysis of 250 fired bullets and casings from 13 firearms, officials said.

The results of the shooting investigation were turned over to the district attorney’s office earlier this year to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

“It’s still under review,” Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said this week.