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Article on 2005 Child Shooting Angers Chief of LAPD

By Sheryl Rentz on February 13, 2009

On January 7, 2009, LAPD Police Chief Bill Bratton lashed out against the Los Angeles Times for implying that Bratton’s department had been unethical while investigating the 2005 shooting of a 1-year-old girl, Susie Pena. Bratton’s tirade against the Times came on the heels of an article that suggested that the department had made both scientific and ethical lapses during an autopsy investigation for this tragedy, which started with a family dispute.

The feud can be traced back to July 2005, when José Pena, Susie’s father, went on a cocaine binge and got into an armed standoff with police and SWAT officers. The SWAT team believed they had neutralized Pena and stormed his position, but Pena was not disarmed, and he fought back. In the ensuing gun battle, both Pena and his 1-year-old baby were killed. At question during the investigation was whether Susie Pena had been killed by a SWAT team member’s bullet or by a bullet from the gun of her own father. During initial examination at the coroner’s office, it appeared as if a SWAT team bullet has been responsible. However, a crime lab staffer named Amy Driver later reviewed all of the coroner’s evidence and developed a theory that the bullet came from Pena’s gun instead. These competing forensic analyses led to multiple levels of accusations and recriminations. Dr. James Ribe, the top medical examiner for the city, called Driver’s interpretations and credentials into question, while others accused the LAPD of conspiracy and trying to undermine the investigation.

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