LOS ANGELES - Over the objection of the two prosecutors assigned to the case, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office dropped its bid Thursday to seek the death penalty for an admitted gang member accused of killing a family member in East Los Angeles and then opening fire on two Whittier police officers, killing one and wounding the other.
Michael Christopher Mejia, 30, is awaiting trial on charges stemming from the Feb. 20, 2017, killings of Officer Keith Boyer, 53, and of his own cousin, 47-year-old Roy Torres.
Officer Keith Boyer
The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of murder of a peace officer in the performance of his duties, murder for the purpose of avoiding arrest and multiple murders.
"Over the objection of Mr. (Geoff) Lewin and I and despite our attempts to prevent this from happening, we've been ordered to remove the death penalty as punishment consideration in this case," Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron said during a hearing on the case today at the Norwalk courthouse.
Prosecutors had announced in 2018 that they would seek the death penalty against Mejia. The reversal comes two months after District Attorney George Gascón was sworn into office. Gascón -- who said he had a "mandate from the public" -- has vowed that the office would no longer pursue the death penalty.
Whittier Police Chief Aviv Bar and two of the victim's family members spoke at the hearing, with the chief asking for all of the applicable charges and penalties to remain in place.
The police chief said Boyer's loss has been "devastating to our department" and said "we are just never going to be the same."
The victim's son, Josh Boyer, called the day his father died "the worst day of my life" and said he is "wanting some justice."
One of Torres' relatives, Tiffany Garcia, said, "I will be his voice, but this isn't justice."
During a preliminary hearing in June 2017, an audiotaped interview with Mejia was played in court, in which he told detectives that he "smoked" the officer and his cousin and "shot another cop."
"I guess you guys have everything down -- smoked my cousin, smoked the cop. ... I mean, what else do you guys want? I shot another cop," Mejia said during the 48-minute interview in a hospital jail ward eight days after the killings.
During the early part of the taped questioning by sheriff's Detectives Dean Camarillo and Omar Miranda about the killings, Mejia initially said, "I don't honestly remember doing none of that ... I was high on drugs ..."
But he later told the detectives, "I did it, I mean, I did it ... both of 'em, all three of them had it coming," adding that the "officer got too aggressive with me."
Boyer -- the first Whittier officer killed in the line of duty in 37 years -- was shot when he responded shortly after 8 a.m. to a report of a traffic collision near Colima Road and Mar Vista Street in which Mejia had been involved.
Mejia allegedly pulled out a semi-automatic handgun and fired at Boyer as well as Officer Patrick Hazell, who was shot in the abdomen but survived.
Mejia was shot in the back.
He told detectives in the Feb. 28 taped interview that he was trying to flee after the crash, but "the cops came right behind me, within two minutes." He said the arriving officers did not have their guns drawn when they approached.
"I delayed it. I should have smoked 'em quicker," he is heard saying on the tape, telling the detectives later that "they didn't come out with both guns pointed 'cause if they would have come out with both guns pointed, then it would have been a whole different ball game."
Asked by detectives if he had anything to say to the Whittier Police Department, Mejia said, "I mean, train your guys better. Train your guys better. They just got a taste of an L.A. gang member, real L.A. gang member. You know what I mean? And, nope, I don't feel sorry. Because I know they would've dropped me, they wouldn't feel sorry for my family."
When asked by homicide investigators about what happened with Torres, the defendant said that his cousin should have "kept his nose clean" and said that he had "warned him."
In addition to the murder counts, Mejia is charged with one count each of attempted murder of a peace officer, carjacking and possession of a firearm by a felon with two prior convictions: second-degree robbery in 2010 and grand theft auto in 2014.
The charges also include allegations that Mejia personally and intentionally discharged a handgun and that he committed the crimes "for the benefit of, at the direction of, and in association with a criminal street gang."