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Local Liberty is the blog of the Center for Local Government at the Claremont Institute.

The Claremont Institute's Center for Local Government aims to restore republican government at the local level. This means articulating and applying the fundamental principles of the American Founding: the rule of law, property rights, and morality. Americans should become once again, as James Madison urged, "free and gallant citizens;" "the mutual guardians of their mutual happiness."

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The Center for Local Government: Local Liberty

« Lawmakers Assist Suicide of Assisted Suicide Bill State's Democrats Target Marriage »

Standing Up for the LAPD

In Watts tensions are rising over a police shooting that killed a crazed, gun-wielding father and his baby girl, the Los Angeles Times reports. The newspaper offers a complete account of events leading up to the shooting as related by Police Chief William Bratton.

At 3:47 p.m., police took a 911 call from the car dealership placed by Pe�a's stepdaughter, whose name was not released, Bratton said. The girl told police that her father was threatening her and asked for help. A patrol car was dispatched while an operator tried to call back. Someone answered the phone and did not speak, but a struggle was heard.

When police got there, Pe�a shot at them.

The stepdaughter, trapped, was able to escape about 5 p.m. as police returned Pe�a's gunfire in the direction of the girl and officers, police said. Once she was free, she told them he had ingested cocaine and alcohol, and related threats he allegedly made against the entire family.

"Her father had threatened to kill her, kill the baby, kill himself and the mother," Bratton said.

An LAPD sergeant got Pe�a on the phone and hostage negotiators spoke to him about 5:30 p.m. � the last time the department had any contact with him inside the building. Before abruptly ending talks, Pe�a told negotiators he was not going to go to prison, Bratton said.

About 6:20 p.m., SWAT team members fired at Pe�a again, then moved in, falsely believing he had been wounded and was down near the door to the store. They believed the child was alive. Once inside, they discovered Pe�a was mobile and shooting at them from behind the wall of a small office. After they set off a "flash bang" device, SWAT Officer Daniel Sanchez, 39, was hit by a bullet in the right shoulder and was pulled out of the line of fire by colleagues.

Officers returned fire � in the third and final exchange with the suspect that day. When the shooting was over, 60 rounds had been fired inside the small space. Susie was found dead near the office door with a wound to her head. Pe�a was found dead behind a desk.

"It may be confirmed the child was killed by the police but that doesn't change the circumstances," Bratton said. "It just compounds the tragedy."

Quite right, yet family members, an attorney and some residents blame police for this tragedy.
"The police killed my daughter," said Lorena Lopez, who had lived with Pe�a for six years, in brief comments to reporters Tuesday. "I want justice."

At a nearby news conference, Luis Carrillo, an attorney representing the family, placed the police action in what he called "a long history of excessive force against minorities" and an equal history of covering it up by the LAPD and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Another remarkable quote comes later in the article.
On Tuesday night, more than 100 protesters and neighbors gathered at the shooting scene for a candlelight vigil in memory of Susie Lopez.

Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic Hope, said the department's record of confrontation warrants a thorough look into this case.

Pe�a is "not going to win any father of the year award � but let's focus in on the investigation and not a smear campaign," Ali said.

Excuse me? Numerous police officers risk their lives attempting to protect a family whose deranged head threatens to kill them all. Incredibly the officers, after being shot at, are accused not just of unprofessionalism, but of racism and suspect motives. And Najee Ali dares to accuse the officers of a smear campaign?

The LAPD has been guilty of wrongdoing in the past. The Rampart scandal alone is enough to make me scrutinize events carefully prior to accepting the department's version as truth. But this criminal - an armed suspect threatening his family and shooting multiple times at officers - justified the use of deadly force against him if ever such force is appropriate.

If local police don't receive the community's support in such circumstances the whole enterprise of law enforcement and public safety in that community is a lost cause, due not to police misconduct, but rather to the public's inexcusable failure to rightly assign moral culpability. When a gunman takes innocents hostage and fires at police any resulting deaths are that gunman's fault, even if a SWAT officer acidentally hits the wrong target or a deputy rushes in too soon.

Watts residents ought to show the officers - no doubt traumatized by a death whose weight they wouldn't have to feel in a just world - that a silent majority supports them. After all, though we count on local government to ensure public safety, the rule of law ultimately relies upon a moral citizenry upholding basic notions of right and wrong, vocally when necessary.

UPDATE:

Mack Reed of LA Voice weighs in on the subject with a reasonable voice here.

Crime, Crime, Ethnicity | Conor Friedersdorf | July 13, 2005 | 01:39 AM

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All I can tell you is the court system and govt criminalizes fathers. Too easily, fathers are denied access to their children, too often by a malicious mother. Then our wonderful govt forces him to pay ransom, work 2 times as hard for half the pay and not be able to enjoy parenting or being with his own child. THIS IS NOTHING MORE THAN SLAVERY. THEN THEY VILLIFY THE FATHER. SO SORRY TO THE OFFICIALS IN LA BUT BECAUSE OF YOUR CONNECTION TO THE CORRUPT "FAMILY" COURT SYSTEM AND A GOVT THAT ENSLAVES FATHERS, I DON'T TRUST YOU. I WOULD RATHER CONSIDER THAT THIS WAS A FATHER DRIVEN TO DESPARATION BY KNOWING EVERYTHING INCLUDING HIS OWN CHILDREN COULD BE TAKEN AWAY FROM HIM, AS HAPPENS TO SO MANY FATHERS.

steve coleman | July 13, 2005 | 09:57 AM

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Let's be clear. Courts may unjustly deprive fathers of their role in their children's lives. But any claim on these grounds that Jose Raul Pena may have had evaporated when he threatened the lives of his own family, not to mention those of police officers and bystanders.

It's refreshing to see chief Bratton politely tell the usual gang of persecutors--Earl Ofari Hutchinson, the accusatory family members, and their race-baiting lawyer--to go to hell and leave his officers alone. The perpetrator here was Pena. The implication of the L.A. Times that LAPD was in any way responsible for the little girl's death is inexcusable. But it confirms that not much has changed at the L.A. Times.

Timothy Wheeler | July 13, 2005 | 12:07 PM

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Let's review:

Jose Raul Pena, 34, was a native of El Salvador, where he had served with the same troops that ran the death squads.

An illegal alien to the U.S., he was originally deported from the U.S. because of cocaine/drug charges. He then re-entered the U.S. illegally.

In this incident the police responded when his wife called the police. He had armed himself with a stolen gun and had threatened to kill her.

His family had told authorities that Pena was under the influence of alcohol and drugs. A bag of cocaine and a bottle of of tequilla were found at the scene.

Negotiations with Pena continued for nearly two hours as members of LAPD's SWAT team communicated with him by phone. The department also used psychologists and crisis specialists and gave Pena numerous opportunities to surrender.

One neighbor, Raul Orduna, said the suspect was waving a gun, with the child in the other arm. "He was holding the kid with one arm, screaming at the police," Orduna said. "He was holding the kid like right in front of him."

As photos show, he held his infant daughter, Susie Lopez, in one hand and his stolen gun in the other. He fired on police - hitting one officer, Officer Daniel Sanchez, a 15-year veteran, who was dragged to safety by other officers.

Police managed to get Pena's 17 year-old step-daughter to safety, as well as another woman pinned down by Pena's gunfire. Pena's step-daughter told officers her father threatened to kill her baby sister.

The tragic fatal shooting of Pena's daughter was only the second time a hostage had been killed in the 38 years since the department formed its SWAT unit in 1967. In that time, SWAT officers have responded to 3,800 calls involving hostages.

...and the POLICE are at fault..?

citizen | July 18, 2005 | 01:00 AM

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there is no question that the father of this poor lifeless child is a disgrace, but at the same time swat team members are supposed to be able to shoot one shot and hit a target in this situation without killing the hostage!!!!!!!!!!!
it saddens me to think that i may need the assistance from police one day and i hope by that time in my life if ever they have better training and can compose themselves better.
i also understand that the officers that were there have to live with this for the rest of their lives but a badge does not make it okay to kill even if they feel they had no choice.
they became cops knowing there would be confrotations like this where their lives would be in danger and yet over one shoulder shot to an officer they open fire and kill an innocent baby...
that is legal murder in my and many other peoples eyes.
i want to see head lines of an arrest on police officers involved.. that would be a start on justice for the baby that is now dead and the mother that is suffering over her....

citizen | July 18, 2005 | 07:56 AM

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