HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html No Drug Link To Family In Fatal Raid, Police Say
Pubdate: Sat, 28 Aug 1999
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 1999 Los Angeles Times.
Contact:  (213) 237-4712
Author: Anne-Marie O'Connor, Times Staff Writer
Note: Times staff writers Peter Y. Hong and Tina Daunt contributed to this


The El Monte Police Department has no evidence that anyone in the family of
Mario Paz--a 65-year-old man fatally shot in the back by an El Monte
officer during a search of his home Aug. 9--was involved in drug
trafficking, nor did officers when they shot their way into the house in
the nighttime raid, a senior police official said.

El Monte Assistant Police Chief Bill Ankeny said he was unsure if his
department's narcotics unit even knew whether the family was living at the
Compton home when it was raided by the SWAT team. He said the team of up to
20 officers--who shot the front and back doors open as the family
slept--was looking for evidence that could be used in a case against Chino
drug suspect Marcos Beltran Lizarraga, who had been released on bail the
morning of the raid.

"We didn't have information of the Paz family being involved in narcotics
trafficking," Ankeny said in an interview Thursday. "To my knowledge, right
now, we don't have any information that the Paz family was dealing in
narcotics. To our knowledge they were not."

Ankeny said El Monte police asked for the warrant to search the home after
some phone bills, Department of Motor Vehicles records and other mail
bearing the family's address was found among Beltran's possessions. The
family says Beltran lived next door in the 1980s and persuaded Paz, a
father of six and grandfather of 14, to let him receive mail at the Paz home.

Paz was shot to death in the back in full view of his wife, Maria Luisa, by
an officer who entered their bedroom during the raid.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which is investigating the
killing as an officer-involved shooting, has provided three different
explanations for why Paz was shot, though sheriff's investigators
interviewed the family and the SWAT officers intensively after the shooting.

The first explanation, given in a statement read to the news media until as
recently as Monday, was that El Monte officers believed Paz to be armed.
The second, offered Wednesday by sheriff's homicide investigator Lt.
Marilyn Baker, was that the officer who shot Paz thought he saw him
reaching for his gun--a suggestion hotly disputed by the family. The
current explanation, in a statement dated Thursday at 1:30 p.m., is that
Paz was shot when he began to reach for a nearby drawer where police say
they found guns.

Baker was not available Friday and could not be reached to clarify the
changes in the explanations.

Sheriff's spokesman David Halm said he was not familiar with the details of
the probe, but "sometimes as an investigation progresses, things are
learned that differ slightly from the original information."

El Monte police reported finding three pistols--two of them, they say, in a
drawer on the floor near Paz--and a .22-caliber rifle in the home. The
weapons were seized as evidence. The rifle and the third pistol were found
in the corner of the bedroom, the Sheriff's Department bulletin said Thursday.

"I personally think that four weapons are a lot for one person to have next
to the bed," Baker said. "If you had one, would you keep it next to your
bed? Probably. But four?"

The family said Mario Paz, who came to the United States as part of the
bracero agricultural labor program in the 1950s, kept firearms safely
stored away in a dresser drawer to protect the family in the high-crime
neighborhood. They adamantly rejected the suggestion that he would have
turned a gun on a police officer--or that their family is anything but
hard-working and law-abiding.

"My father's name means peace, and he stood for that," said Maria Derain,
who works for a lithographer, during a news conference at the Paz home
Friday. She said the shooting has "taken someone who was dearest to me."

Brian Dunn, an attorney for Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.'s firm who is
representing the family in a planned lawsuit against El Monte police,
criticized the agency for linking the family to a suspected drug trafficker.

"What the El Monte Police Department has not told you," he said at the news
conference, "is that Mario Paz has never been suspected of committing a
criminal act."

El Monte Assistant Chief Ankeny said the officers believed there might be
armed people at the Paz address because they had found three high-powered
rifles in a search of another home linked to Beltran. The warrant said
officers also found $75,000 and 400 pounds of marijuana at two other homes
linked to Beltran.

Ankeny said police went to the Paz home--where no drugs were found--"in
furtherance of their narcotics investigation case" against Beltran.

"I don't know whether they expected to find the Paz family living there or
not," Ankeny said. "I don't even know if they expected to contact the
family when they went in. I don't know if [the Pazes] were owning or
renting. [The officers] were looking for evidence of narcotics
trafficking--drugs, or money from sales. But when we search, we don't
always find what we expect."

Ankeny said he "can't say absolutely that the [Pazes] were not involved in
narcotics trafficking. To our knowledge they were not. But all that has to
come out with the continuing investigation."

El Monte police also seized $10,000 in cash at the Paz home, which the
sheriff's investigators say was taken as evidence. El Monte officers
initially said they would try to have the cash forfeited in a civil
procedure as ill-gotten gains, but Ankeny backed off from that position
late Thursday. The family has described the money as their life savings.

"That's usually the way it goes--[authorities] would file a civil action to
try to have the money forfeited," Ankeny said. But "if they can't develop
information that the proceeds of the money was [from] narcotics
trafficking, it will be given back to the family. [Authorities are] not
going to proceed unless they have evidence."

Ankeny said he had "the greatest sympathy for the family and their loss.
Loss of life is a tragedy."

Another officer probing the shooting, sheriff's homicide investigator Susan
Coleman, said that the El Monte police warrant to search the Compton home
had been legally obtained and that police "made the proper commands and
announcements. It's not out of the ordinary. You don't know all of the
reasons they went into that house."
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