LAPD raid wrecked print shop. Owner can’t get compensation
Carlos Pena has led NoHo Printing & Graphics in North Hollywood for 13 years. He has stayed here even as this stretch of Lankershim Boulevard became increasingly patchy, even as the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to lay off all of his employees.
“It’s a very creative field, but not very profitable,” the Salvadoran immigrant told me, half-jokingly, as we entered his shop. “But it’s mine.”
What was once the showroom has now been stripped down to nails, plywood and beams. Industrial-sized air conditioners and fans stood where display cases and T-shirt shelves once stood, a reminder of the day last summer when Pena’s life changed forever.
On August 3, just after lunch, the 55-year-old was working on an assignment when he heard what sounded like a helicopter and someone on a bullhorn. Pena opened the back door and looked down the street to see US Marshals Service agents yelling at him and pointing in his direction. Before he could close the door, a man hit him on the shoulder with a metal object, kicked him out, and then holed himself inside the house.
YouTube footage shows marshals with heavy artillery and bulletproof vests taking up positions around NoHo Printing and on nearby rooftops. They then step back as Los Angeles Police Department SWAT vehicles pull into the parking lot behind the store. Banging noises soon give way to clouds of tear gas.
For 13 hours, Pena waited at a nearby restaurant while the standoff continued with someone who police said was a fugitive. He waited so long that the restaurant finally asked him to leave because it was closing.
“It was like a movie,” Pena said, shaking his head, his voice world-weary. “Out of 10 million companies, this stupid guy chose mine.”
Two days later, the Marshals returned Pena to NoHo Printing. Customer projects were scattered across the floor. Holes were punched in doors, walls and even the ceiling, which the fugitive climbed into by placing a ladder on top of a copier. He had somehow escaped.
“Look, look,” Pena kept repeating while swiping through the photos on his smartphone. “This is a $9,000 printer that the fugitive stood on and broke.”
The worst, he said, was the stench of tear gas. “You couldn’t be off for a minute without gagging.”
Neighboring shops were not damaged. Pena had to throw away all his materials – ink cartridges, vinyl rolls, packaging materials. His landlord had to remove all drywall and insulation. The lawsuit, which Pena filed with the US Marshals Service, said that while the fugitive destroyed equipment, it was SWAT’s tear gas that left NoHo Printing.[un]habitable.”
A few years earlier, Pena had switched to a cheaper insurer who said such events were not covered by his policy. LA prosecutors dismissed his claim in August without explanation. The US Marshals Service initially rejected his request, saying it had not asked for a specific amount. When he responded with an itemized bill for about $60,000, the agency again turned him down.
Although marshals had tracked the fugitive to NoHo Printing, they argued that LAPD SWAT was involved in the standoff, not them. The certified letter ended by giving Pena the address of the LAPD and a suggestion to “make your claim directly with the department.”
In response to my inquiry, the US Marshals Service said, “Our office cannot comment materially on the decision” of Pena’s claim. When I called the LAPD media department to confirm the details of the August 3 raid, Officer Drake Madison suggested I file a public record request.
When I sent a list of questions about Pena’s case and also asked what LAPD policy is when officers damage a business while looking for a suspect, LAPD Capt responded. Kelly Muniz said that while Pena’s claims are under investigation, we cannot comment further.”
Pena’s struggle makes Job seem just as happy as the guy who recently won a $2 billion Powerball jackpot.
Since the US Marshals Service and LAPD wouldn’t give me answers, I called two people who would.
Attorney Arnoldo Casillas, who specializes in police misconduct, doesn’t see too many cases like Pena’s, but considers them “my honorary responsibility” because they’re so difficult to prosecute.
He brought up the LAPD’s botched detonation of a fireworks warehouse in a south LA neighborhood in 2021, which overturned cars, destroyed homes and left some residents still unable to return.
LAPD chief Michel Moore was quick to apologize, but “they are fighting tooth and nail not to pay,” Casillas said. “I suggest not [Pena’s case] is on par, but $60,000 in damages is no small sum.”
State and federal laws “allow police some discretion” in pursuing suspects. “Some dishes will break,” he said, so the damage must be “prodigious, to the point where it’s vicious.”
Pena’s claim to the US Marshals Service states that SWAT fired 31 tear gas canisters at his shop, which I’m sure sounds egregious.
Obtaining compensation without knowing the intricacies of the system is difficult – victims must make a specific claim within six months of the incident, and do it in the right way, Casillas said.
“I have seen cases where a lawsuit has been filed and the police say they have only received a complaint, not a claim, and the lawsuit has nowhere to go. It’s a little cop way of paying nothing. They really don’t care.”
Tanishia G. Wright, director of the LA County District Attorney’s Office of Victim Services, called Pena’s case “a very sensitive case. … [LAPD] really treated him extremely unfairly for that.”
She said her office “fortunately” doesn’t see many similar cases. It directs people to the California Victims Resource Center, which offers reimbursement for qualifying damages. Wright’s office has an unclaimed victim compensation fund, and “we can draw on it” to try to settle any differences, she said.
When I asked about LAPD’s policy when officers damage the property of innocent people, Wright was silent.
“I can’t tell you that,” she replied. “Honestly, I should know. I’m curious to know. We may have victims who might have these questions.”
Both Casillas and Wright offered to speak to Pena about his case.
Pena is enough of a neighborhood fixture that clients like Eric Walter have tried to help him through the ordeal.
“In an ideal world, he should be getting compensation for lost earnings,” said Walter, a retired athletic director at nearby Oakwood School who has been a client for nearly a decade. “But at this point he would be happy to just get back to business.”
“My claim is denied,” Pena said. His piercing blue eyes had a thousand yard gaze. “If that happens, I’ll have to sell my house. My business will finally be dead.”
We went to the back room, crammed with untidy closets, a desk, and a tub of t-shirts with an airtight seal that kept it safe from the raid.
Pena now works from home and goes into his shop just to use the two machines that survived the robbery — a vinyl cutter, along with a copier that needs a $1,200 part he can’t afford .
His landlord is filing claims with the LAPD and an insurer, and isn’t charging rent in the meantime.
“Everyone else gets help,” Pena replied, referring to the recent bribery scandals that have plagued City Hall. “Look at all the money flowing around town and there’s nothing you can do to help?”
We were now standing in front of his shop front. A stenciled ad on his window offered a special offer: anything printed on a t-shirt was $6.50.
Pena let out a bitter laugh. It’s been a tough few years. His father suffered from health problems. He lost his mother to COVID-19 in 2020 while battling the disease himself. Although they were in the same hospital, the doctors did not allow him to say goodbye.
“When doors are closed, they all close for you,” he said. “I’ve been through hell and back. Everything is raining down on me.”
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-03-27/lapd-swat-raid-north-hollywood-noho-printing LAPD raid wrecked print shop. Owner can’t get compensation