updated 10/31/2006 12:10:26 AM ET 2006-10-31T05:10:26

Cambodian police said an American police officer accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl killed himself Tuesday while in custody in the capital. Local and U.S. authorities said the death was under investigation.

Donald Rene Ramirez of San Francisco “committed suicide by firing two bullets into his mouth,” said Keo Thea, chief of antihuman trafficking police in Phnom Penh.

Reporters were not allowed into the police station to verify the official account, and it was unclear exactly how Ramirez shot himself, including how he would have fired twice. Police planned a news conference about the incident later Tuesday.

Keo Thea said a police guard left his small gun unattended while he went to a bathroom.

The American used a broomstick to pull the gun from under a woven mat on which the police guard had been sleeping and used the gun to shoot himself, Keo Thea told reporters.

Pol Phithey, a deputy police commissioner in Phnom Penh, said a special committee of court and police officials was being set up to investigate the death.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman identified the dead man as Ramirez, but declined to comment on his death.

“We are aware of reports that an American citizen has killed himself while in police custody and we are investigating the matter. We have no details that we can release at this time,” Jeff Daigle said.

Keo Thea’s unit arrested Ramirez, 50, last Thursday and accused him of having sex with a 14-year-old ethnic Vietnamese girl.

Faced up to 20 years in prison
On Sunday, a prosecutor formally charged Ramirez with debauchery, a Cambodian legal term for sexual offenses against minors, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The American was seen taking the girl into his apartment, but denied he had sexually abused her, the prosecutor said Monday.

Police also arrested the girl’s mother who allegedly provided the girl for Ramirez, the prosecutor said.

Last week, 46-year-old Myron Maboris, also American, was accused of having sex with a 14-year-old girl in Phnom Penh and charged with debauchery.

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