LA police criticized in shooting death of Latino man
August 27, 1999
LOS ANGELES -- The family of a 65-year-old Latino grandfather shot to death by police in his home plans to file a lawsuit Friday claiming wrongful death and excessive force, lawyers for the family said.
The shooting occurred in August when police in the Los Angeles suburb of El Monte burst into the home of Mario Paz with shotguns and grenades, looking for a drug dealer who had lived next door several years before.
It was the fourth such incident in either Los Angeles or its environs in as many months, in which police have been accused of using excessive force.
The police found no drugs in the Paz home. The Paz family said the man named on the police arrest warrant lived next door in the early 1980s and occasionally used the Paz's mailing address.
Paz, who had been asleep with his wife, had no criminal record. He was shot twice in the back by an officer who said he feared Paz was about to reach for a weapon.
"It is a pretty outrageous case. They gained entry by literally blasting down the outside doors with shotguns while people were sleeping," family lawyer Brian Dunn told Reuters.
"It seems undisputed at this time that Mr. Paz was unarmed when he was shot," he added.
Two investigations are underway into the raid by about 20 members of an elite SWAT police team. El Monte police are investigating, as is the Los Angeles County Sheriff's department.
Just 10 days ago, the FBI started an investigation into a controversial Los Angeles police unit -- the Special Investigation Section -- over the deaths of two unarmed robbery suspects.
In June, police called to a domestic dispute shot dead a man who threatened them with a sharp object. It later turned out to be a ballpoint pen. In May, police opened fire and killed a mentally ill homeless woman who lunged at officers with a screwdriver.
"Every case must be evaluated on its merits but the phenomenon of unjustifiable police homicides is something that is recurring at an alarming level," said Dunn.
In the Paz shooting, El Monte police said they were acting on a search warrant for a suspected drug dealer and the raid was standard SWAT procedure. "We throw flash-bang grenades. We bust open the doors. You've seen it on TV," said El Monte assistant police chief Bill Ankeny.
"We do bang on the door and make an announcement -- 'It's the police' -- but it kind of runs together. If you're sitting on the couch it would be difficult to get to the door before they knock it down," Ankeny said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff department investigator Marilyn Baker said the raid started about 11 p.m. After storming the house, she said, two officers went into a bedroom where they found Paz and his wife and ordered them in English and Spanish to show their hands.
"Mr. Paz made a reaching motion. One of the officers, believing he was arming himself and fearing for his life and that of his partner, fired two rounds striking Mr. Paz in the upper torso," Baker told Reuters.
Ankeny expressed condolences to the Paz family and acknowledged that Paz was not the person police were seeking. But he denied reports that police had raided the wrong house.
"It wasn't an accident that we hit that particular house. It wasn't the wrong house. It is the exact house that we intended to go to," he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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