Challenges Officers Faced in Peña Shooting
Los Angeles: Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton addressed the local media this afternoon, July 12, 2005, to clarify some initial known facts in the circumstances of the shooting involving LAPD officers and Jose Raul Peña on July 10, 2005.
Chief Bratton was joined by Assistant Chief George Gascón, the director of Department operations; Deputy Chief Earl Paysinger, commanding officer of Operations-South Bureau, and Commander Michael Downing, who was the incident commander at the scene on of the shooting last Sunday.
Chief Bratton provided some additional preliminary facts, without jeopardizing the investigation, to illustrate the difficult circumstances and challenges officers faced on Sunday while trying to end the stand off with Peña and rescue the 19-month-old daughter, Susie, whom Peña was using as a human shield during the 2½ hour incident:
Prior to the incident that precipitated the encounter with Peña, his wife made a Domestic Terrorist report to Southeast officers, at about 2 PM, after Peña had threatened the wife, the stepdaughter and the baby. Officers were unable to locate Peña at the time of that investigation.
Almost two hours later, Peña’s stepdaughter called 9-1-1and reported that Peña had threatened her. Prior to police arriving, a dispatcher called back and the stepdaughter answered, but the call was abruptly ended. Dispatchers upgraded the urgency of the call to an “unknown trouble.” Patrol officers arrived just after 4 PM and Peña began shooting almost immediately, using the infant as a shield.
Over the next hour, the 17-year-old stepdaughter was able to escape from Peña’s location, rescued under fire from Peña, by LAPD officers. The rescue of this family member provided valuable information to crisis negotiators and officers at the scene. She said Peña had threatened to kill her, the baby, the wife and himself; he was very unstable and under the influence of cocaine and alcohol. Police already knew Peña was shooting at them, as well as shooting indiscriminately across the neighborhood.
Patrol officers were able to establish phone contact with Peña by about 5 PM, and crisis negotiators were talking to him soon after, but he abruptly ended that contact by 5:35 PM, with no further contact until about 6:30 PM when the last of the three shooting encounters occurred, when Peña was killed and the baby was found dead.
Chief Bratton will receive a briefing tomorrow from the Force Investigation Division detectives, 72 hours after the shooting. Some additional information may be made available following that briefing.
On the release of the autopsy report, which is pending, Chief Bratton said:
“[Whatever the results] it will change nothing having to do with the circumstances of the case. If it is found that the child died at the hands of the police department, it compounds the tragedy; it compounds the grief of this Department and our officers, in that they would have taken such a young life when they were trying to rescue that young life, but it will not change any thing relative to what we were working with: a very volatile, unstable individual, who, in many respects, left us no choice but to take the actions we took.”
Reiterating, it was Peña who was shooting at police and the neighborhood; it was Peña who was trying to kill his 17-year-old stepdaughter; it was Peña who was making threats to kill himself and his family; he told officers he was not going to jail; and it was he who was under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
“He [Peña] was showing no predilection to give up,” Chief Bratton added. “He had already attempted to kill his 17-year-old stepdaughter in full view of your [media] cameras. Our mission was to rescue that child and protect the safety of our officers and the public.”
Assistant Chief Gascón confirmed that the stepdaughter had been hospitalized, voluntarily, for her protection and because of the stress from the incident. He also confirmed that part of the investigation included reviewing footage from Peña’s several surveillance cameras, from which Peña had watched officers’ approaches to his property.
Chief Bratton also categorically denied reporters’ claims that LAPD investigators had ordered a security hold on the infant’s autopsy report by the Coroner’s office. Chief Bratton has no desire to see the autopsy report withheld. Customarily, the Coroner will release public aspects of the report once the report has been transmitted, first, to the Department. At the time of the news conference, no reported had been transmitted.
Immediately following the news conference, Chief Bratton briefed City Council members Alex Padilla and Bernard C. Parks, as well as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, on the status of the investigation.
The information contained in this release is preliminary to the overall investigation and is subject change as the investigation progresses.