Latino Lawyers, Garcetti Meet Over Tagger’s Death : Protest: Prosecutor reaffirms decision not to charge man who shot teen-ager. Some attorneys say racist pattern exists.
After what was described as a candid and occasionally heated three-hour meeting with 11 Latino lawyers while demonstrators protested outside, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti stood fast Friday in his decision not to prosecute a Sun Valley man for shooting a teen-age tagger to death.
However, Garcetti told the attorneys he would consider reopening the case of William Masters II and other, similar cases involving Latino victims if the lawyers brought new evidence to him, according to the lawyers and a spokeswoman for Garcetti.
The Masters case has renewed simmering tensions between Garcetti and his supporters in Mexican American legal circles. It also angered some people in the San Fernando Valley, where others disgusted by graffiti blight initially regarded Masters as an urban folk hero.
The case took on racial overtones for many when Masters--a 35-year-old part-time actor--referred in news interviews to Cesar Rene Arce, 18, and his companion, 20-year-old David Hillo, as “Mexican skinheads.” Masters killed Arce and wounded Hillo in a confrontation last week that began when he found them painting graffiti under the Hollywood Freeway in Sun Valley.
Security was tight during the meeting at the Criminal Courts Building on Friday afternoon as about 60 predominantly youthful demonstrators, exhorted by organizers with bullhorns, picketed and chanted, demanding “Justice for Cesar Arce.”
Access to the courts building was briefly limited as more than a dozen sheriff’s deputies lined the hallway behind windows and doors on the first floor, eyeing the demonstrators, who carried placards with slogans labeling Masters and Garcetti as racists.
Meanwhile, Garcetti and members of the Mexican American Bar Assn. were engaged in a spirited session, according to one of the lawyers present. Garcetti refused to talk with reporters.
“It was heated because each side felt strongly about their position,” said attorney Danilo J. Becerra. “There was a lot of emotion.”
Garcetti laid out his reasons for not filing murder or manslaughter charges against Masters, including prosecutors’ belief that it would be impossible to win a jury conviction, Becerra said.
In the Masters case, Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Cohen, chief filing deputy for the Van Nuys branch, concluded last week that it was reasonable for Masters to fear that he was in danger of serious injury, and was therefore warranted in shooting the attackers. Cohen attended the meeting in Garcetti’s office Friday.
Masters told police that Hillo was carrying a screwdriver and that the two taggers tried to rob him and to block his way when he tried to leave.
The city attorney’s office is reviewing the case to decide whether to charge Masters with carrying a loaded, concealed handgun, a misdemeanor.
Demonstration organizer Steve Martinez noted that Masters has a criminal record for carrying swords on a street in Texas. Martinez said neither Arce nor Hillo had criminal records, adding: “At the age of 20, if you’re a robber or a thief, you’re going to have a record already here in L.A.”
Several of the attorneys alleged that the Masters case was but the latest example of what they say is a racist pattern of non-prosecution.
“If they have the evidence, they should charge him and let the chips fall where they may,” attorney Luis Carillo said. “They should let a jury decide.”
The other cases discussed at the meeting included the videotaped beating of Felipe Soltero in July, 1994, by a Compton police officer, and the April, 1994, shooting in Lynnwood of Aldo Vega, who was 14 when he was chased and shot by a grocer who said Vega and a friend had stolen a box of cookies.
Over the past year, these cases have caused tension between Garcetti and his supporters in the Mexican American community.
Each time, prominent attorneys and other community leaders have pressed for criminal charges and independent investigations. Each time, Garcetti has stood fast in refusing to prosecute the cases.
The attorneys said they may ask the U.S. attorney to launch a federal civil rights investigation of Garcetti’s office.
Becerra and another attorney, Humberto Guizar, are involved in a $10-million civil rights lawsuit scheduled for a May trial in U.S. District Court. The suit alleges that their client, Soltero, 17, was brutalized by Compton Police Officer Michael Jackson, who is African American.
Guizar said that during the meeting with Garcetti, the attorneys accused the prosecutor’s office of systematic racism in refusing to prosecute controversial cases involving Latino victims.
Guizar said that Garcetti acknowledged during the meeting that there might be problems with some individuals in his office not applying the law equally. Garcetti spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said the district attorney denies making any such statement.