Sure, the Baby is Dead — But the Cops are Free, so Let’s Party!

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Four years ago, nineteen-month-old Suzie Pena was shot to death by Los Angeles SWAT commandos during a 2 1/2-hour standoff with her father, Jose Raul Pena. After suffering a narcotics-related breakdown, Mr. Pena took his daughters hostage, barricaded himself in the office of his used-car dealership, and began a gun battle with the police.

At one point, Pena was holding a gun in one hand while using Suzie as a “human shield.” In his derangement he seems to have assumed that putting an infant in the line of fire would deter paramilitary police from shooting at him. He was wrong: The child was shot in the head and died, even as her anguished mother, Lorena Lopez, pleaded with the police to be careful and not to shoot the innocent baby.

Lopez filed a wrongful death lawsuit contending that the SWAT team should have used different tactics; that was the same conclusion, incidentally, reached by a panel appointed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William Bratton.

But under the evolving doctrine of police impunity, it is not the privilege of mere mundanes to question the tactical decisions of their betters in blue. Accordingly, earlier today (Monday, August 3), Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu “took the case away from jurors as they were scheduled to begin hearing final arguments,” reported the New York Times. “Based on trial testimony, there was no way the panelists could have concluded that police officers acted unreasonably, Treu ruled.”

Of course, that’s for the jurors to decide, in any constitutional jurisdiction this side of North Korea.

Judge Treu — who really should be locked in a room with Lorena Lopez and about a half-dozen of her male relatives — committed an act of judicial nullification (aborting the possibility of a jury verdict) most likely out of the fear that the jury would quite sensibly conclude that it is inexcusable for SWAT marksmen to shoot an infant hostage in the forehead.

As is so frequently the case, injustice was compounded with insult as City Attorney Carmen Trutanich — who should visit that same locked room after Lopez and her relatives are finished with Treu — high-fived a colleague “after learning of the judge’s decision,” reported the New York Times.

Reports the Los Angeles Times:

“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.”

In making that claim, Trutanich, who is strenuously resisting an audit of his corruption-riddled office, displayed unwonted concern over needless public expenditures. Trutanich, a shameless camera whore, also claimed that the lawsuit was a waste of time; he has more important things to do, such as trying to wring a publicity-rich criminal prosecution out of Michael Jackson’s untimely death.

(Thanks to Scott Horton for bringing this outrage to my attention.)

10:14 pm on August 3, 2009