A gun authorities allege was carried by a 16-year-old boy who was shot and killed by sheriff's deputies in South Los Angeles during a foot chase may have been taken by someone in a crowd of people who converged on the scene, an official said Monday.
A crowd of 30 or more people from the Westmont neighborhood swarmed deputies after the shooting Sunday night, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Capt. Chris Bergner said at a news conference.
"While waiting for backup, and trying to control the situation, it's believed that somebody may have taken the gun that was in the possession of the juvenile at the time of the incident," Bergner said.
Two deputies responded to a report of a young man in blue jeans and a black shirt pointing a handgun at a motorist about 8 p.m. in the 1200 block of 107th Street. The caller, according to audio released Monday, said he feared for his life.
While on foot, deputies encountered a 16-year-old boy who matched the description. They spotted a handgun tucked into his pants, according to statements by the Sheriff's Department. When they ordered him not to move, the teen ignored the deputies' command and took off running into an apartment complex known as a gang hangout, Bergner said.
The teenager led deputies into the courtyard, he said. During the chase, the young man turned toward the deputies and one of the deputies fired about 10 shots. The teenager was struck "several times" in the upper body, the department said in a statement.
Neighbors flooded the courtyard, Bergner said. The two deputies called for additional help to control the crowd as it swelled to 30 or 40 people. It was in this mayhem that deputies believe the gun went missing, Bergner said.
Officials have talked to residents and witnesses during the investigation, including one who validated the "deputies' accounts and observations," Bergner said Monday.
"The witness has stated that they were not able to tell if the subject had a gun but did hear deputies telling him 'Don't reach for it. Don't reach for it.'" Bergner said. "Intimating that the subject did have a gun."
Bergner said deputies were sure they saw a weapon on the teenager.
"Deputies were pretty articulate in describing specific features of the weapon that led us to believe they did see a gun," he said. The deputies were not wearing body cameras.
The teenager, whom deputies did not identify due to his age, was an alleged gang member.
But other witnesses question the deputies' accounts. They said that the teenager was seen throughout the day shirtless. Bergner said paramedics cut a shirt off the teenager as they were trying to save his life.
Community activist Kevin Orange said that he personally knew the young man, who was known by neighbors to be a member of a gang. The teen was always respectful during their interactions, Orange said.
"All the challenges he was going through as a juvenile and all the prevention programs they have out there," wasn't enough to "prevent him from going down that road of joining a gang," Orange, 54, a Westmont resident, said. "Men in our community failed him."
Orange said he saw the young man an hour before the shooting. He was bare-chested with a white shirt tied around his neck. He and a group of four or five friends were in the neighborhood celebrating the Super Bowl and bragging about their favorite team.
The area where the shooting occurred is known to law enforcement as "death alley" because it has one of the highest mortality rates in Los Angeles County.
"This is death alley," Orange said. "People do carry guns, not to hurt somebody but to make sure they don't get hurt."
Still, he said he never saw the 16-year-old armed.
"I have never seen him with a gun and I didn't see him with a gun that day," said Orange, who wondered whether deputies had the wrong suspect.
This is the first fatal deputy-involved shooting of 2018. Last year, there were eight, according to statistics released by the department Monday.
Sheriff's officials as well as the Los Angeles County district attorney's office are investigating the shooting.
8:55 p.m.: This article was updated with information from a news conference and comments from a community activist.