Prosecutors not charging L.A. police officer in 2016 deadly shooting of teen in Boyle Heights
LOS ANGELES (Fox 11/CNS) - Prosecutors declined to file charges against a Los Angeles police officer, who shot and killed an armed 14-year-old boy in Boyle Heights in 2016, according to a memo released Monday by the District Attorney's Office.
The Los Angeles Police Commission had already deemed the shooting justified.
Jesse James Romero was killed on Aug. 9, 2016 near Breed Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue.
Officers responding to a graffiti call said they believed the boy fired a shot at them from around a corner.
In a federal lawsuit filed in 2017, his parents claimed the gun discharged when the teen threw it over a fence.
The D.A.'s Justice System Integrity Division concluded that "Officer (Eden) Medina used reasonable force in self-defense and defense of others."
According to the memo, dated Feb. 28, Medina and Officer Alejandro Higareda responded to a vandalism call and activated their body cameras before approaching an apartment complex, which Higareda recognized as a gang hangout.
They spotted three people. Romero and another person ran off. The officers chased after them.
When Higareda saw Romero grabbing his waistband, he called for backup and advised Medina to follow Romero, according to the memo.
A video surveillance camera captured Romero running with a gun in his waistband.
Before getting around a corner, the officers heard a gunshot and believed the teen was firing at them, according to the memo and an earlier report by Chief Charlie Beck.
When Medina turned the corner, he reported seeing Romero in a squatting position, with his right hand extended out. Medina fired two rounds in response. At least one of the shots struck the teen.
"It was reasonable for Medina to believe there was significant and imminent danger to himself, to his partner, and to the many people in the vicinity at that time, from an armed man who was refusing to comply with law enforcement," the D.A.'s memo concluded.
The reports did not state that Medina actually saw a gun in Romero's hand, and the officer's body camera footage showed that the weapon was found behind a fence.
An investigator who tested the revolver determined that the "most likely explanation of the evidence was that the revolver was fired, then dropped."
Three witnesses from a nearby car contradicted that finding. The said they saw Romero pull the gun from his waistband and throw it toward the fence, where it fell onto the ground and fired, the Los Angeles Times reported.
A woman told The Times that after he threw the gun at the fence, Romero turned around and looked startled after a shot went off and before two more gunshots brought him to the ground.
Another witness in a parked car told investigators she saw Romero shoot in the direction of the officers.
The lawsuit claimed the boy was shot in the back.
"It would have been impossible for Jesse to have the gun in his hand at the time the officers shot him in the back," Humberto Guizar, an attorney for Romero's family, said in June.
An autopsy revealed Romero suffered a fatal gunshot wound to his chest and a non-fatal "through-and-through" wound in his stomach with the bullet exiting his hip, according to the D.A.'s memo.
A gunshot residue test of Romero was "inconclusive."
The lawsuit alleged the LAPD delayed getting medical assistance for the teen, and lacked probable cause to stop him and to use deadly force against him.
In doing so, Romero was deprived of his civil rights and Medina caused his wrongful death, the suit alleged.
The lawsuit also claimed the LAPD failed to properly train and supervise its officers, leading to the unnecessary and unreasonable use of excessive force, and used unconstitutional police tactics to investigate use-of-force incidents.
"The LAPD has fostered a culture of allowing its officers to shoot people and get way with it, and not discipline them and not take them off the streets," Guizar alleged.
Romero's mother spoke to police commissioners before their 3-1 vote in the case last July.
"There's no justification for why they killed my son," Teresa Dominguez said in Spanish.
The board ruled the shooting was within department policy in agreement with Beck's report.
However, the panel unanimously ruled that the officer's tactics leading up to the shooting was not within policy.
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