A California family has filed a $5 million wrongful death claim against the city of Modesto and the Modesto Police Department. The family claims police officers acted in negligence when they left a young mother alone at her house after seeing that the woman was sick and in danger. The mother, 26 year old Amanda Pennaluna, died in a house fire several hours later.
The family’s claim details a sequence of events that ultimately led to Pennaluna’s death. At 10:40 p.m. on June 21, Pennaluna called 911 and asked for more time to dress her four year old daughter Sheila before handing her over to a SWAT team. Given that there was no SWAT team outside her house or plans to take Sheila, Pennaluna’s call was viewed as uniquely strange.
A group of Modesto Police Department officers went to Pennaluna’s house to investigate her call. They saw a large pile of vomit in front of her house and found Sheila locked outside. Upon entering the house, officers found Pennaluna inside the bathroom with a knife in her hand. An ambulance was called and officers spent about 15 minutes convincing Pennaluna to put down the knife. Several minutes later, officers decided it was safe to leave the woman at the house alone. They took her daughter into custody.
"The MPD decided to leave Amanda,” the claim states, “knowing that she was unable to care for herself. The actual time the MPD closed the door, ceased its effort to protect and rescue and then abandon Amanda is not known.”
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About three hours later, firefighters were dispatched to a house fire at Pennaluna’s home. She was found trapped inside and taken to a local hospital. The next day, she died of smoke and soot inhalation. The family’s claim says Modesto police officers should have recognized the clearly unstable mental state Pennaluna was in and not left her alone.
The family’s attorney expects the presiding judge to reject their claim. Once that happens, the family will file a lawsuit alleging that the officer’s actions were not appropriate given the situation. The attorney said there is no precedent in California courts for what police officers are legally responsible to do when dealing with a suicidal person, but said that “this may be the case that provides the definition.”