L.A. Police Officers Used Reasonable Force in Unintentional Death of Infant, Court Affirms


On June 10, 2005 Raul Pena took his 19 month old daughter hostage in his auto shop after threatening to kill various family members and himself.  A Los Angeles Police Department SWAT team was called in and attempted to negotiate with Pena, whom the officers knew was armed with a gun.  Negotiations failed, and the officers developed a plan to try to save Pena's daughter, by distracting and shooting him.  During execution of the plan, Pena shot at the officers, and they shot back intending to strike Pena but not the daughter, but killed both.  The daughter's mother sued the City, claiming that the officers had used unreasonable force, which caused the daughter's death.     

In an opinion published June 13, 2011 the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court's finding that no substantial evidence existed showing that the officers used unreasonable force during the incident which led to the infant's death.  In doing so, the Court found that the officers were not required to wait until Pena pointed his gun directly at the infant before taking the actions they did, and that the use of force was not unreasonably dangerous relative to the danger Pena's action posed.

Although this opinion does not result in the creation of new or different law, it is an important recognition that courts will give police officers latitude in using reasonable force during dangerous, rapidly-evolving situations.  You can read the entire opinion in Lopez v. City of Los Angeles, B219499, here.

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