At a press conference yesterday (August 10), Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Robert Arcos presented its account of the fatal officer-involved shooting of Jesse Romero, a 14-year-old Mexican-American boy that Hollenbeck Gang Enforcement Detail officers were chasing for allegedly writing gang graffiti.
Residents and supporters held a vigil last night for the boy, who was killed Tuesday (August 9), then marched to the Hollenbeck Community Police Station.
In a Los Angeles Times video of yesterday’s press conference, Arcos said the incident began when police received a radio report of “vandalism suspects” near Chicago Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. After police arrived Romero ran. As officers approached the corner of Breed Street and Cesar Chavez, they allegedly heard a gun shot. When they turned the corner, one of the officers fatally shot Romero. Police presented a picture of an antiquated handgun at the conference.
Arcos said that a witness had seen Romero point a gun at police and pull the trigger. But another witness told the L.A. Times that she saw Romero throw the gun toward a fence as he ran and the gun went off. From the Times:
A woman who said she witnessed the shooting and who would only identify herself by her first name, Norma, said she was in a car stopped at a traffic light at Cesar Chavez and Breed Street when she saw someone running from Chicago Street. He was pulling up his basketball shorts, which appeared to be falling down, she said.
As the runner turned onto Breed Street, he pulled a handgun from his waistband and threw it toward a fence, the witness said. The gun hit the fence and fell onto the ground, and she heard the weapon fire, she said.
At that moment, she said the runner turned around and appeared startled. She heard two more gunshots and the runner fell to the ground, she said. Moments later, officers placed handcuffs on him, she said.
“He didn’t shoot,” the woman said of the runner.
The L.A. Times reports that police initially described Romero as a man in his 20s. An investigator with the coroner’s office, Mario Sainz, identified him as a boy of 14.
At yesterday’s press conference, Arcos said four LAPD officers have been fired on this year and two shot. He then called Romero’s killing “particularly tragic” due to his youth. ”The tragedy of this event cannot be understated. In a community where violent crime continues to rise, particularly gang crime, this event underscores the need for youth programs and outreach, which could provide opportunities and alternatives for the youth of our community.” Arcos also told reporters that the officers, who have not yet been identified, were wearing body cameras and that investigators were uploading and looking at the footage.
Hollenbeck Gang Enforcement Detail Officers, who track 34 gangs in the area, fatally shot another civilian on July 28, a man who was allegedly riding in a stolen car. In a statement posted to the LAPD’s website, the driver failed to stop the car and drove it into a cul de sac. The passenger, Omar Gonzales, jumped out and ran away. From the statement:
Alert residents attempted to stop the fleeing suspect when officers arrived and attempted to take him into custody. The suspect fought with the officers causing them to fall to the ground and the struggle continued. The suspect was then seen armed with a loaded .25 caliber semi-automatic handgun. One officer subsequently fired two rounds striking the suspect.
At last night’s vigil for Romero, reports the L.A. Times, Aztec dancers performed and people in a crowd of about 70 held votive candles and signs that read,”El pueblo unido for Jesse (The people united for Jesse)” and ”No más madres en luto (No more mothers in mourning).” The crowd “swelled to 100” people, the L.A. Times who marched down First Street to the LAPD’s Hollenbeck Community Police Station. The crowd also chanted “Justice for Jesse.” The boy would have turned 15 on August 24.
In an interview at her home, Romero’s mother, Teresa Dominguez, told the Times that the shooting was not right. “That’s why they are trained as police officers. Not to kill him.”
Dominguez said she didn’t think her son was in a gang, that she didn’t know where he could get a gun and that he mostly hung out with two friends at home playing video games. A family friend said Romero was enrolled in a gang intervention and youth development program at Soledad Enrichment Action and was doing well.
Romero was the 12th person shot and killed by on-duty LAPD officers this year.