Police: No policy violations in fatal shooting of El Monte family’s German shepherd



EL MONTE >> More than nine months after police walked passed “beware of dog” signs, entered an El Monte family’s front yard and then fatally shot the family’s pet German shepherd when it charged at one of the officers, El Monte police have announced an internal investigation found no wrongdoing or policy violations on the part of the involved officers.
Detective Arlen Castillo and then-officer Ken Fraser, who has since been promoted to the rank of sergeant, responded to the home in the 4700 block of Maxson Road in El Monte on the afternoon of June 19 to collect a photograph of the teenage son of Cathy Luu and Chi Nguyen, whom they had previously reported had run away from home. The boy came home a short time later.
Video footage of the incident captured by the family’s home surveillance system depicts Fraser casually open a gate and enter the family’s front yard, followed closely by Castillo. The officers stood in front of the family’s front door before the family’s pet pit bull approached Fraser, and he petted the dog.
The family’s 2-year-old German shepherd then emerged from the back yard of the home, began barking and charged toward Castillo, who was standing at the home’s front door. Castillo shot and wounded the dog.
“The full incident was investigated, including both officers’ actions, with no sustained policy violations found,” El Monte Police Chief Steven Schuster said in an email.
Both Castillo and Fraser remain on active duty, police officials added.
“The El Monte Police Department has strict policies in place that describe the procedures in place to protect residents’ pets,” Schuster said. “This was an unfortunate and isolated situation in which, upon responding to a call from the residents asking for police assistance, the officers felt that their safety was compromised due to the dog.”
In a written statement, police officials said the department remains “committed to continued development” of policies regarding encounters between officers and dogs.
The department has “already integrated these procedures into our officer training,” according to the statement. No specific examples were given.
Following the shooting, police officials said the officers noted the “beware of dog” signs, shook the fence and looked around for the presence of dogs before entering the family’s yard.
But the video tape depicts the officers arriving in their patrol car, then opening the gate and entering the yard without breaking stride.
Schuster acknowledged the “discrepancy” between the account provided by the officers and the video of the incident, but the department found no policy violation on the part of the officers.
“The initial statement included information that was known to the reporting officer at the time, which was prior to knowledge of video evidence,” the Chief said. “As we learned about the discrepancy, we corrected the statement to the media and public and asked for the original video file to assist in our investigation. We completed a full investigation on this matter, and determined there were no sustained violations.”
In addition to the death of their dog, family members also initially complained of the manner in which they were treated after their dog was shot.
Police immediately seemed to begin investigating the family, demanding to see license paperwork for the wounded animal and other dogs at the home before providing veterinary help, family members said at the time. The video shows the dog lying wounded for more than an hour before being picked up by animal control officials.
Police also initially promised to pay for the dog’s medical care, but rescinded the offer after learning of the $7,000 price tag for the medical procedures, Luu said. The dog was eventually euthanized.
“We have apologized to the family numerous times for the loss of their beloved pet and we have worked with the family to try to rectify the situation,” Schuster said.
El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero said he empathized with the family and hoped police would use the incident, “as a learning experience.”
“It’s my understanding that they did review their policies and make sure going forward there’s additional training,” the mayor said. He added he was concerned about both the safety of residents’ pets, as well as the safety of police officers.
“I’m hoping, on a moving forward basis, that we’re going to be able to have no more incidents like this.”
Quintero said he was satisfied with the internal police investigation into the shooting.
“I believe they did review all the different aspects that they could,” he said.
Luu said she did not wish to comment on the findings Friday.
Mayor Quintero said he and then-acting city manager and current Assistant City Manager Jesus Gomez has met with the family and listened to their concerns.
“They were very kind, very gracious,” he said.
The family has not filed a claim against the city or the police department seeking damages.
Nonetheless, Quintero said, if the family was interested in getting a new dog, “I would do whatever I could to make sure that happened. I think everyone at city hall empathizes with the loss of a pet in those circumstances. Not a replacement, but a new pet to help them heal.”


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Investigation continues in fatal shooting of Whittier man in El Monte

EL MONTE >> Detectives continue seeking clues in the mysterious slaying of a Whittier man who was shot to death while sitting in a car with his girlfriend over the weekend.
Simon Mendoza, 40, died at the scene of Saturday’s 12:32 a.m. shooting in a residential neighborhood in the 1300 block of Medina Court in El Monte, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said.
The Whittier resident, who held three jobs, was sitting in the driver seat of his car and talking with his girlfriend just prior to the fatal shooting, Lt. Eddie Hernandez of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said. The car was parked near the girlfriend’s home.
“She hears a tapping on the driver-side side window,” Hernandez said. “Shortly after the tapping, she hears several gunshots.”
Bullets struck Mendoza several times in the “upper torso,” the lieutenant said. The woman was not struck by gunfire, but was injured by shattered glass.
No words were exchanged before the shots were fired, he said.
“It happened quickly,” Hernandez said. “He didn’t have any time to react, and definitely didn’t have any time to defend himself.”
The shooter, described only as male, then fled the scene, Hernandez said.
A compact car was seen speeding away, though it was not clear Wednesday whether that car was involved in the shooting, he added.
No further details regarding the circumstances was known Wednesday.
A motive in the slaying was yet to be established.
“We’re still working the leads we have,” Hernandez said. “The detectives have been working diligently on it since it occurred.”
Neither Mendoza nor his girlfriend were believed to have gang ties, Hernandez said. But the area where the shooting occurred is known to be frequented by local gang members.
Friends and family members could not be reached for comment. A manager at an IHOP restaurant in Rosemead said Mendoza had worked there for two years and he was saddened by the shooting. He added that coworkers were rallying to help Mendoza’s family.
Mendoza’s Facebook profiles indicates he was a father.
Photos posted on the profiles show him smiling with neat, short-cropped hair, a mustache and wearing silver-colored cross necklace.
Sheriff’s homicide detectives are assisting El Monte police with the investigation, and anyone with information was asked to contact the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to L.A. Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

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1 arrested, 15 cited at El Monte police checkpoint

EL MONTE — Police screened 1,208 drivers during a sobriety and driver’s license checkpoint, yielding one arrest, 15 citations and three vehicle impounds, authorities said.
The checkpoint took place late Friday into early Saturday along Ramona Boulevard at Gilman Road, on the city’s eastern border,El Monte police Lt. Eric Stanley said.
One person was arrested on suspicion of a narcotics violation, the lieutenant said.
Two drivers were given sobriety tests at the checkpoint, but neither was ultimately arrested on suspicion of intoxicated driving, he added.
Police cited 15 people for driving without a license, Stanley said. Three cars were impounded, while 13 were released at the checkpoint to licensed drivers.

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Shooting suspect found dead after El Monte standoff identified

EL MONTE >> Coroner’s officials Saturday identified a 61-year-old man found dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound after shooting and critically wounding another man in a neighborhood dispute.
Thanh Cao was pronounced dead shortly after 1:30 p.m. Friday after a SWAT team stormed into his home in the 11400 block of Elmcrest Street in El Monte, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. David Smith said.
An autopsy was pending to determine an officials cause of death, Police found Cao fatally shot in a room he was believed to have been in by himself, El Monte police Lt. Chris Williams said.
Officials said Cao shot a neighbor — described as a man in his 50s — multiple times about 7:30 a.m. Friday. Further information regarding the nature of the dispute that led to the shooting was not available.
The first police at the scene scooped up the wounded man, placed him in a police car and rushed him down the street to waiting paramedics, Williams said. He was hospitalized at a trauma center in critical condition.
Acting on witness reports that the shooter — later identified as Cao — had gone into a home, police ordered anyone inside to come out, Williams said. Two people emerged and told police that Cao had gone into a bedroom just before they heard a single gunshot.
A SWAT team surrounded Cao’s home and spent five hours trying to communicate with him before ultimately forcing their way in, William said. They then discovered Cao, fatally wounded.
A search of public records indicates Cao has lived in the home for 12 years, and in the neighborhood for more than 20 years.
Mourning family members gathered at the scene Friday declined to comment.

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Police: Shooting suspect found dead in El Monte home, victim critically injured


EL MONTE >> A SWAT team stormed an El Monte home Friday afternoon where a shooting suspect was holed-up and discovered him dead of a gunshot wound.
El Monte Police stopped short of calling the death a suicide, but said the suspect, described as a man in his 50s, was believed to be alone in a room when shot. No additional suspects were being sought.
The suspect allegedly shot another man at 7:27 a.m. in the 11400 block of Elmcrest Street.
The victim, also a man in his 50s, was hospitalized at a trauma center in critical condition, according to El Monte Police Lt. Chris Williams.
Police provided no details of what prompted the shooting but had described the confrontation as a neighborhood dispute.
Williams said the incident began with a report of “shots fired” and a “person hit”.
“Initial information was that a subject was shot, and a suspect was seen going into a neighboring house,” he said.
Officers found a man at the scene suffering from multiple gunshot wounds, Williams said. It was not clear how many times the man had been shot.
Officers placed the wounded man into a police car and rushed him down the street to paramedics, who were standing by near the crime scene as police searched for the shooter.
Police ordered anyone inside the home where the suspect was seen entering to come out, Williams said.
Two people exited, but neither was the suspect.
“One person told officers they heard a single gunshot in the room where the suspect was,” Williams said.
The relationship between the witnesses and the suspect was not immediately available.
Believing the armed shooting suspect may be barricaded inside the home, police summoned a SWAT team to the scene.
Six homes in the area were evacuated and Frank Wright School at 11317 McGirk Ave. was placed on lockdown as a precaution, officials said.
For five hours, officials tried unsuccessfully to speak with the suspect, including tossing a telephone into the home shortly after noon.
“After all attempts at communication failed, (SWAT) officers entered the residence a little after 1:30 p.m.,” Williams said. They then discovered the suspect fatally shot.
Family members of the dead man gathered at the scene but declined to comment.
Neighbor Daniel Chou, 29, said he did not hear the shooting and first learned something was going on when police swarmed the neighborhood.
At 9 a.m., Chou said police told him to stay in his home. A half-hour later, they returned and told him it was time to evacuate.
The school lockdown was lifted shortly before 2 p.m., and evacuated residents were allowed to return to their homes just after 2 p.m. as police continued investigating the shooting scene.

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Dinner and dance this weekend to benefit El Monte police K-9 program

EL MONTE — The community is invited to mingle with the El Monte Police Department’s four-legged officers and their handlers Saturday during the Soggy Dog Dinner and Dance to raise funds for the El Monte Police K-9 Association.
Dinner will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the El Monte Moose Lodge, 4249 N. Peck Road, followed by a dance from 8 p.m. to midnight, organizers said in a written statement.
Steak and chicken dinners will be served for $13, however the cutoff date to select a chicken dinner has passed.
The event will include raffles.
For more information, the lodge can be reached at 626-442-1025.

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Police plan checkpoints in El Monte, Pasadena

Police are planning checkpoints this month in El Monte and Pasadena.
El Monte police will conduct a sobriety and driver’s license checkpoint from 6 p.m. Saturday to 2 a.m. Sunday at an undisclosed location within the city, El Monte police Officer Nick Stratis said in a written statement.
In Pasadena, police will screen drivers for sobriety and valid licenses from 8 p.m. March 14 to 3 a.m. the following morning, police officials said.
Both checkpoints are being funded by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Rowland Heights man charged with fatal stabbing of El Monte man in La Puente

A Rowland Heights man was charged Tuesday with fatally stabbing another man whose body was found behind a La Puente business.
The District Attorney’s Office filed one count of murder against 27-year-old Andres Aguirre Garcia, according to DA spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani.
She said the charge comes with the allegation that the suspect personally used a knife to commit the crime.
Garcia’s arraignment was continued to March 11 at Pomona Superior Court.
The victim, 28-year-old Jose Chacon of El Monte, was found lying in a parking lot behind a business in the 15900 block of Old Valley Road in La Puente about 2:45 a.m. Feb. 12. He sustained multiple stab wounds to his upper body and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Lt. Steve Jauch of the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said Garcia and Chacon were acquaintances. The two had a disagreement which resulted in the stabbing, he said.
But Jauch didn’t say what the disagreement was about or what led deputies to Garcia on Feb. 14. He was arrested that night.
“He confessed and he produced the knife,” Jauch said.
Booking records show Garcia is being held at Men’s Central Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

- Ruby Gonzales

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Parolee, passenger jailed after high-speed chase from West Covina to El Monte

A man and woman from El Monte were behind bars Saturday after leading West Covina police on a high-speed chase in a stolen car during which the driver rammed a police car, authorities said.
Driver and parolee William Paul East, 30, was booked on suspicion of auto theft, driving a stolen car, assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer and felony evading of police following the pursuit, which began about 11:10 p.m. Friday in West Covina before officers stopped it with a PIT maneuver in El Monte, West Covina police Lt. Dennis Patton said.
His passenger, 32-year-old Jenny Anne Lao, was arrested on suspicion of possession of methamphetamine, the lieutenant said.
East was being held without bail and was scheduled to appear in West Covina Superior Court Feb. 20, according to county booking records. He was already being sought for absconding from parole supervision when the chase took place, officials said.
Lao was being held in lieu of $25,000 bail and was scheduled to appear Tuesday in West Covina Superior Court.
The incident began when a man called police to report seeing his compact Toyota sedan, which had been stolen in El Monte, driving through West Covina, Patton said.
“He happened to come across his vehicle and notified West Covina police,” he said. It was not immediately clear when the car had been stolen.
The caller directed police toward where he had spotted his stolen car, and officers caught up with it in the area of Valinda Avenue and Maplegrove Street, on the western border of West Covina, Patton said.
“Officers proceeded to attempt to stop the vehicle, when the vehicle abruptly fled at a high rate of speed and a pursuit was initiated,” Patton said.
The fleeing car led officers along side streets before getting onto the westbound 10 Freeway, where it reached 105 mph, he said.
As the car exited at Peck Road, East lost control and the Toyota spun out, Patton said. Lao got out of the car and fled on foot, but was quickly apprehended. East continued fleeing in the car.
Police continued chasing the car south on Peck Road until it crashed into a car parked in a used car lot at Peck Road and Valley Boulevard, Patton said.
“After that impact with a parked vehicle at the auto dealership, the driver put the vehicle into reverse and intentionally rammed a police vehicle,” he said. The officer was not injured, and the damage appeared minor.
When East tried to continue driving, officers used a PIT maneuver to bring the chase to an end, according to Patton. East then surrendered.

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Small plane lands without nose wheel at El Monte Airport

EL MONTE — A pilot landed a small airplane safely at El Monte Airport without a nose wheel after it dropped of mid-flight and fell onto Pioneer Park, authorities said.
The pilot and a passenger walked away with no injuries following the unusual landing, which was reported about 11 a.m. at the airport, 4233 Santa Anita Ave., according to Federal Aviation Administration and Los Angeles County Fire Department officials said.
“The wheel reportedly fell off during flight and landed in Pioneer Park, about 1 mile southwest of the airport,” FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said. “There are no reports of ground injuries or damage.”
The pilot was initially unaware the wheel of his front landing gear had fallen from his single-engine, four-seat Diamond DA40 airplane, officials said.
But witnesses reported seeing the part fall from the aircraft and land at the park and reported it to authorities while the air was still in the air., El Monte police Lt. Ben Lowry said. Officials were able to notify the pilot over the radio of the malfunction.
The plane continued on to El Monte Airport, where despite having no front wheel, “The pilot apparently did an excellent job landing,” Lowry said. The damage was described as minimal.
The pilot, a man estimated to be in his 40s or 50s, and his passenger, whose description was unavailable, both declined medical treatment, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Ray Rodriguez said.
According to FAA records, the 2006-model airplane is registered to Mile High LLC., which has an Arcadia home listed as an address.
The FAA is investigating the incident.

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