After Michael Christopher Mejia was charged last year with shooting two Whittier police officers, many in law enforcement were quick to blame California’s efforts to slash its prison population for failing to keep an admitted gang member like Mejia off the streets.
They decried recent changes to the state’s justice system that reduced sentences for drug and theft crimes and shortened jail stays when newly released offenders violate the terms of their supervision.
Local authorities gave Mejia an “excessive” number of chances while he continued to break the rules of his supervision, failed to document all of his violations and didn’t share important information with each other, according to confidential county reports prepared by a panel of criminal justice experts.
At the same time, court records reviewed by The Times and The Marshall Project show, prosecutors missed an opportunity to send Mejia to jail and drug treatment for several months in the weeks before the killings.
April 19, 2016
Released from prison
Mejia was freed after serving a two-year sentence for stealing a relative’s car. Since his last crime had been nonviolent, he was placed under the supervision of Los Angeles County probation officers. Despite having a history of drug use, he was not offered a screening for substance-abuse treatment when he left prison.
July 6, 2016
Arrested with drugs at home
Mejia was detained after authorities searched his family’s East Los Angeles home and found black-tar heroin, syringes and written materials that mentioned his gang. He was given 10 days in jail.
Sept. 8, 2016
Gang tattoo on face
Mejia turned up to a meeting with his probation officer with a new tattoo on his face — a “W” on his right cheek and a “G” on his left, the initials of his gang, “Winter Gardens.” He was told to remove the tattoo.
Sept. 29, 2016
Arrested with gang member carrying drugs
L.A. County sheriff’s deputies arrested Mejia after seeing him with another gang member who was carrying meth and a smoking pipe. Mejia was given another 10 days in jail.
Nov. 17, 2016
Syringe found in Mejia’s home
Probation officers found a drug syringe at Mejia’s home. Mejia admitted injecting heroin “every other day” and said he wanted help. His probation officer referred him for drug treatment, but there was a two-week delay in setting up the appointment for him.
Dec. 5, 2017
Failed to report for drug assessment
Mejia admitted that he skipped his drug assessment appointment. He was given a new appointment, but again didn’t go.
Dec. 7, 2017
Associated with a gang member
Deputies saw Mejia with another gang member. He was given another 10 days in jail.
Dec. 30, 2017
Walked out of drug treatment center
A probation officer learned Mejia had shown up to an appointment at a drug treatment center but then walked away. His grandmother also called probation saying that was afraid for her safety, that Mejia was still doing drugs and that he was paranoid and claiming she was trying to poison him.
Jan. 2, 2017
Drugs and gang member found at home
Deputies searched Mejia’s home and found meth and written materials that mentioned his gang and his gang moniker. Hiding inside his bedroom was a female gang member. Mejia tried to flee but was caught and jailed.
Jan. 5, 2017
90 days in jail and drug treatment recommended
Probation officers recommended Mejia be locked up for 90 days and then transferred to a court-ordered inpatient drug-treatment program.
Jan. 10, 2017
Prosecutor agreed to 30 days in jail
A prosecutor asked a court commissioner to sentence Mejia to 30 days in jail instead of the recommended 90. With credit for the time he had already served in jail and for good behavior, Mejia was released two days later.
Feb. 2, 2017
Returned to jail a 5th time
Mejia fled when deputies arrived at his family home after someone inside dialed 911 and hung up. He was sent to jail for another 10 days. He was released Feb. 11.
Feb. 20, 2017
Killing of cousin and Whittier police officer
Mejia allegedly fatally shot his cousin, Roy Torres, then ambushed two Whittier police officers, killing Officer Keith Boyer and wounding Officer Patrick Hazell.
Sources: Los Angeles County government and court records
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This story was published in partnership with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletter, or follow The Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter.
The Marshall Project receives funding from the California Endowment and other organizations that support efforts to reform the state’s criminal justice system. Under terms of its funding, the Marshall Project has sole editorial control of its news reporting.