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Judge dismisses suit filed by mother of toddler killed by LAPD bullet [Updated]

August 3, 2009 | 11:08 am


In a victory for the Los Angeles Police Department, a judge this morning threw out a lawsuit filed against the city by the mother of a 19-month-old toddler killed by a bullet fired by SWAT officers during an attempted hostage rescue in 2005.

The case before L.A. Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu was set to go to the jury this week after SWAT officers and police experts completed their testimony.

But Treu this morning granted the city's motion to dismiss the case, saying a jury could reach only one conclusion: that the officers acted reasonably.

Attorneys for Lorena Lopez, mother of 1 1/2-year-old Suzie Pena, argued in the trial that officers should have retreated and negotiated further with Raul Pena, who was delirious on alcohol and cocaine and holding his daughter hostage in the office of his car dealership on July 10, 2005.

The city contended that officers attempted the rescue in the best tactical way possible, and that the baby's father was the only one to blame for her death because he repeatedly held her as a shield during the hours-long standoff.

[Updated at 11:22 a.m. City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, who was being interviewed by The Times when a deputy city attorney came into his office announce the news, jumped from his chair with a cheer and high-fived the lawyer. Millions of city dollars had been in jeopardy, he said.

 “This is a case where nobody wins except the citizens, because no one should have been sued in this case,” said Trutanich, who spent four hours personally vetting the evidence with the city's legal team before it went to trial.

“Police did everything pursuant to procedure, they were caught in a terrible situation -- in fact one officer was shot as they were charging the door because they believed the father was going to kill the child.”

"I'm a father, I understand what it means to have a child killed," Trutanich said, "but you know there's a big difference between killing a kid because of something that overtly you did wrong and charging the city of Los Angeles, which was there not only trying to save that child's life, [but also] the mother, and the stepdaughter, the citizens around."

"There were 200 and some odd shots fired -- can you imagine the risk to the surrounding public at that time?" Trutanich said. "To me that cop should have been given a medal of valor, he's charging the place, takes a shot in the arm … and then continues to go forward, bleeding, to save that child's life as the father is cranking off 41 different shots. And then they get sued -- that's 'no good deed goes unpunished.' "]

-- Victoria Kim and Maeve Reston

Photo: Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, left, high fives staff lawyers in his office after being told that the suit stemming from the LAPD shooting had been dismissed. Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times