Los Angeles Police Commission President John W. Mack’s Comments On Tragic Use Of Force Incident

November 28, 2006

Today, Los Angeles Police Commission President John W. Mack stated the following:

We thank you very much for coming here today to hear our decision regarding this incident.

My fellow Police Commissioners and I have now completed the long and extremely difficult task of carefully reviewing and making a decision regarding the use of force incident which resulted in the death of 19 month-old Suzie Peña and her father José Peña, on July 10, 2005. This incident is nothing short of tragic. And it is tragic for all of us…the family, the officers involved, and the community at large. It is a loss for the City of Los Angeles and it will be remembered as a sad and tragic day in our City’s history.

We reviewed a very comprehensive investigation regarding this complex incident, and I want to thank the members of the Los Angeles Police Department who completed this work.

In addition to the Department’s exhaustive investigation, we considered the independent review from the Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of André Birotte, Jr. Again, his review looked at every aspect of this tragedy.

A full account of this incident will be provided in a public report on the Commission’s web-site in the near future. However, I am going to provide a very brief review of the events that occurred on July 10, 2005:

Officers responded to an "Unknown Trouble" call at a used car lot located at 10420 Avalon Boulevard. Shortly after arriving on the scene, officers encountered José Peña, who was holding Suzie Peña in his arms. The officers were fired upon by José Peña. Although officers returned fire, nobody was hit by gunfire. Additional officers responded to the incident and an attempt was made to rescue an additional victim, 16 year-old Ilsy DePaz, José Peña’s step-daughter, who was trapped inside the lot. During the rescue attempt, José Peña again fired on officers who returned the fire. Again, nobody was hit during that exchange of gunfire. Subsequently, there was a second attempt which was successful in rescuing Ilsy DePaz.

Metropolitan Division’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit was notified of the incident and responded, along with officers from the division’s K-9 unit. Crisis negotiation experts also responded and several attempts were made to persuade José Peña to surrender peacefully.

Over two hours after the initial police response, José Peña came out of the lot’s office, armed with a handgun and holding his 19 month-old daughter, Suzie Peña. A shot was fired at José Peña when he reached for his gun. José Peña was not struck by the shot and ran back into the office. SWAT officers entered the building with the intention of rescuing Suzie Peña and halting the threat posed by José Peña . SWAT officers exchanged gunfire with José Peña inside the office as José Peña continued to hold Suzie Peña. In the course of that exchange, one SWAT officer was shot in the shoulder, and both José and Suzie Peña sustained fatal injuries. The officer who was shot has recovered from his injuries and has returned to duty.

During this incident, LAPD officers fired a total of 109 rounds, 54 by SWAT officers in the confrontation with Jose Peña in the office area. José Peña fired a total of 39 rounds, 15 in the office area in the confrontation with SWAT officers. As observed by officers and videotape surveillance cameras, José Peña held his daughter Suzie Peña in his right arm to his chest while holding his gun and shooting it with his left hand.

Throughout this incident, José Peña made repeated threats to kill himself, family members, his daughter Suzie Peña , and police officers. These threats were heard by witnesses and the Commission in tape recorded conversations with José Peña during the negotiations to attempt his surrender.

The Board of Police Commissioners has been provided with analysis and recommendations regarding this incident from the Chief of Police and the Inspector General. After thorough and careful consideration and review, the Commissioners found that the majority of Los Angeles Police Department personnel involved in this incident performed in accordance with policies and protocols as they existed at that time. Nevertheless, in reviewing this incident, the Department and the Commission have identified room for improvement in the manner in which the Department responded to this challenging and violent event.

It is the Commission’s and Chief Bratton’s intent that the lessons of this tragic incident be learned and that the Department improve its capacity to respond to future incidents of a similar nature. The Department has already instituted a series of improvements, which the Commission approved today that will provide for an improved police response in future incidents. To supplement the improvement already planned or instituted, the Commission has identified further areas for improvement and has directed the Chief of Police to institute them. There were some command and control concerns that have been identified and will be addressed.

The improvements resulting from the review of this incident include, but are not limited to, the following:

Improved training to supervisory personnel to better equip them with the skills they need to effectively manage critical incidents.

A thorough review of training and qualification practices for the Urban Police Rifle. We expect that modifications to those practices will be made as necessary to improve upon existing standards and ensure appropriate use of these weapons in future incidents.

A review of the training provided to officers for situations involving barricaded armed suspects, and for hostage situations where the hostages are attacked by the hostage-taker.

Research to ensure that the distraction devices used by SWAT officers when they enter buildings provide the best level of protection for officers and the public.

A review of the training of SWAT officers regarding the use of their weapons during high-stress incidents, such as being fired upon by a suspect. It is our expectation that this review will result in additional training scenarios so that officers can better protect themselves and the public they serve.

A review and codification of the protocols and decision-making processes used by SWAT during hostage situations. The goal of this review is to ensure that key tactical decisions made during SWAT operations are consistent with the goal of achieving strategic, managed operations. Additionally, Chief Bratton convened a Board of Inquiry under the direction of Assistant Chief Sharon Papa to review the Department’s SWAT procedures and protocols. That process should be concluded soon.

The Commission has further directed that the scope of the Department’s investigation and review process for categorical uses of force be broadened. Future investigations and reviews will fully evaluate the performance of supervisors and senior personnel with command responsibility for officers involved in this type of incident.

Again, this was an extremely tragic and traumatic incident that we deeply regret – one that we all wish did not happen. And for this Commission, the decision-making process was a difficult, lengthy and complex one. The Commission believes that in the final analysis, the majority of personnel involved in this incident took courageous steps in an effort to diffuse a very frightening hostage situation. Nevertheless, this is an organization that strives to improve in everything that it does. In that connection, there are valuable lessons that must be learned from this incident and we are encouraged by the Department’s willingness to engage in this self-critical analysis to ensure that future incidents of this magnitude are handled in accordance with best police practices.

As in all Categorical Use of Force cases, the Police Commission receives a recommendation from the Chief of Police in three categories: 1) tactics; 2) drawing of the weapon; and 3) the use of force. The Police Commission then reviews, evaluates, and determines the appropriateness of the three aspects of the incident. The Police Commission adopted the recommendations of the Chief of Police as follows:

Two Police Officer II’s, who were on the perimeter of the scene, were found Administrative Disapproval for their tactics, and Out of Policy Administrative Disapproval for their use of force. These officers were not involved in the deadly confrontation with José Peña in the office.

As it relates to the tactics in this incident, the Police Commission unanimously found that the tactics employed by the officers were:

Administrative Disapproval
Two Police Officer II’s

Formal Training
One Lt. I
Three Sgt. I’s
Four Police Officer III’s
One Police Officer II+6
One Police Officer II+II
Six Police Officer II’s

In Policy, Divisional Training
One Police Officer III

In Policy, No Action
One Lt. II
Two Sgt. II’s
Three Police Officer III+I’s
Six Police Officer III’s

Relating to the drawing of the weapons, the Police Commission unanimously found that the drawing of the weapons was:

All Officers were found In Policy, No Action.

Regarding the use of force, or firing of the weapons, the Police Commission unanimously found that the use of force was:

Administrative Disapproval, Out of Policy
Two Police Officer II’s

In Policy, No Action
Eight Police Officer III’s
One Police Officer II

The Inspector General’s abridged summary of this incident, which will include a review of the Police Commission’s findings, will be available on LAPDOnline.org in the near future.

My fellow Commissioners and I are deeply committed to transparency and accountability to the community, while balancing the legal protections afforded peace officer personnel records and the release of information. Pursuant to California law, my fellow Commissioners and I, along with those who were present in closed session, are unable to divulge the details discussed during that meeting.

Again, I want to thank all of you for your patience as the investigation of this complex and sad incident went through its investigatory process.

Thank you.