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Ventura County

Judge to Determine Next Phase of Young Girl's Troubled Life

The foster child who was shot by police awaits sentencing for assault on a Ventura officer.

January 02, 2003|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

Three years ago, a young girl immigrated from China to the United States to join her father.

On Tuesday -- seven months after she was shot by a police officer found to be acting in self-defense -- a Ventura County judge will open the next chapter of her anguished life.

Now 14, the girl will be sentenced for assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon. She was convicted by a Superior Court judge this week in a decision that rankled leaders of the Southern California Chinese American community.

The girl was threatening suicide with a kitchen knife when police were called to her Ventura foster home May 5. She was shot by Officer Kristen Rupp after refusing to drop the knife, moving toward the officer and allegedly making a menacing gesture.

A rookie on the force, Rupp, 24, was cleared of wrongdoing by a departmental investigation. The district attorney's office, which later filed charges against the girl, conducted its own investigation because a police officer shot a person.

The girl's case was closely followed by the Chinese press and a number of Chinese American community groups. Henry Yee, organizer of a petition drive that collected 2,000 signatures protesting the girl's prosecution, said he was disappointed by Judge Herbert Curtis' ruling.

"I believe the judge has erred," said Yee, an accountant who heads the Chinese American Citizens Alliance in Orange County. "The officer panicked and opened fire."

Prosecutor Miles Weiss has said he would seek treatment for the girl rather than incarceration. But Yee said that statement deflects attention from an incident that reflected poorly on both the police and the Ventura County district attorney's office.

"The police made a mistake, and he made a mistake," Yee said. "He never should have filed charges against her in the first place."

Weiss was unavailable for comment.

Paul Loh, the girl's Los Angeles attorney, contended the judge based his ruling on unreliable evidence. Rupp and two other officers at the scene gave "wildly inconsistent" testimony on how the girl was holding the knife moments before she was shot, he said.

"I can understand that people under stress can view things differently," he said, "but these are irreconcilable accounts. Logically, you can't connect the dots."

If his client had been tried before a jury, the officers' differing recollections may have culminated in a verdict of not guilty, Loh said. In Juvenile Court, however, verdicts are rendered by judges alone.

When Rupp testified, she said the girl had threatened her with the knife and would not back off. Rupp said she deliberately breached her department's shoot-to-kill policy by aiming for the girl's midsection and legs.

"It was a terrifying experience," Rupp testified. "I thought to myself, 'I don't want to kill her -- I just want to stop the threat.' "

The girl had been placed in foster care after her father, the operator of a restaurant in Newbury Park, whipped her with a belt and kicked her out of the house, according to her attorney.

Loh said he hoped Judge Brian J. Back would order the girl placed in a group home, along with intensive counseling.

Loh said the girl and her father have been brought somewhat closer by her ordeal.

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