Demetrius Boykins returned to classes Friday at Gardena High with a new appreciation for freedom, family and friends.
“Right now, I’m so happy to be out of jail,” he said. “It was a real experience for me. I don’t ever want to go back there.”
Criminal charges against Boykins, regarded as Gardena’s best all-around athlete, were dropped Friday after prosecutors determined that Boykins was playing in a basketball game at the time an armed robbery he was accused of committing occurred.
The prosecution’s admission of mistaken identity ended a frightening week for Boykins, whose anxiety swelled as he spent seven days and six nights in jail following his arrest on March 22.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “The police kept telling me I was identified, but how could (victims) identify me when I wasn’t there?”
The charges--one count each of robbery and assault with a deadly weapon--were dropped after prosecutors reviewed the official score book kept at the Feb. 15 basketball game by the host school, Manual Arts. The book showed that Boykins started and scored 12 points, Gardena Police Detective Mike Bartlebaugh said.
Boykins, 19, was relieved to have his name cleared, but was bitter about the circumstances that led to his incarceration.
“I’m kind of upset,” he said. “I know I didn’t do nothing from the beginning. I called my friends from the jailhouse and they told me what the (newspapers) were writing about me. It wasn’t fair.”
Bartlebaugh said a woman who identified Boykins as a suspect from a police photo lineup now says that Boykins was not the person who stole her purse and shot at her boyfriend during the crime, which took place Feb. 15 at 8:35 p.m. in Gardena. Bartlebaugh said the woman was shown photos of four suspects.
“It’s just a misidentification,” Bartlebaugh said. “Maybe she got the pictures mixed up. I realize it’s hard for somebody (to identify a suspect) when somebody has a gun. It happens so fast.
“We did everything right down the line like we were supposed to. It was just a misidentification by the victim.”
Boykins said he has considered suing for false arrest.
“It shows that there is still a lot of racism going on in the world,” he said. “They say all blacks look alike. I guess people really do think that way.”
Boykins is black. The woman who identified him is white. But her boyfriend, who also identified Boykins from police photos, is black.
“It was not a racial thing,” Bartlebaugh said.
A misidentification by two eyewitnesses is an unusual occurrence, according to Head Deputy District Atty. Gil Garcetti.
“In my 20-plus years in the district attorney’s office, I don’t think I’ve had five of these cases that have come to my attention,” Garcetti said. “It is a very rare occurrence, but obviously it does happen.
“Luckily for all, especially Mr. Boykins, the mistake was brought to our attention very quickly.”
Boykins was released from jail Thursday after Gardena basketball Coach Rod Tange testified during a bail hearing in South Bay Municipal Court that Boykins was playing for the Mohicans in a first-round L.A. City Section playoff game at the time of the robbery.
Boykins said he was grateful for the support shown by his friends, many of whom greeted him when he was released from custody. Friday, they welcomed him back to Gardena, where his exploits as a football and basketball standout have earned him a great deal of popularity.
“They made me feel like was I really important,” Boykins said. “They told me everyone at school was kind of depressed when I was in jail. But the people that know me knew I wouldn’t do nothing like that.”
Mike Sakurai, Gardena’s football and baseball coach, said the school was happy to learn that one of its most prominent students was innocent.
“It’s sort of a feeling of relief,” Sakurai said.
Boykins’ troubles started March 22 when he was arrested with three other men on suspicion of committing a string of armed robberies in which cash, jewelry and pro sports team jackets were taken from pedestrians. But police never filed charges against Boykins in any of those crimes and released two of the other men arrested.
Boykins’ cousin, Daniel Johnson, 19, remains in custody in lieu of $5,000 bail.
Boykins was living with his cousin and aunt, Mary Johnson, at the time of his arrest at their house in Athens, an unincorporated area just north of Gardena. Boykins said he is now living with another aunt in Gardena.
Boykins was charged with the purse robbery Monday after the victims identified him as a suspect after seeing his photo accompanying a local newspaper account of his arrest. Since then, however, the woman victim said she actually recognized a shorter man who was in the same photograph.
Boykins, an All-City football player, is 6-foot tall and weighs 180 pounds.
“There’s a lot of egg on people’s faces,” Sakurai said. “It was one of those cases where they didn’t dig into it. But they have to go through those steps. I’m not putting blame on anyone, except maybe the people who identified him.”
Sakurai said the Gardena faculty will do its best to help Boykins make up the schoolwork he missed during the time he was in jail. Boykins said he needs to pass all of his classes this spring in order to graduate.
“I’m so far behind I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “If I fail any classes, I’ll have to go to summer school. Hopefully, I won’t.”
Boykins said while in jail he frequently thought about his girlfriend, Julie, and their six-month-old daughter, Brianna. He said they plan to marry in July if they can afford it. They are not living together now.
Boykins also said he has changed his plans about college. Unable to take advantage of Division I football scholarship offers because of a poor academic record, Boykins said he will attend and play football at El Camino College in the fall. He had intended to attend a community college in Washington state.
“I had a serious talk with my father (Thursday),” he said. “I asked him what he thought was best for me, and he told me to just stay down here.
“I have to get a job. I have a baby to support.”
A few days in jail apparently have made a home and family all the more appealing to Boykins.