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Gun and video may provide answers in Jesse Romero shooting, police say

As activists denounced the fatal shooting of 14-year-old Jesse Romero by Los Angeles police this week, investigators continued to scour a Boyle Heights neighborhood for witnesses and performed tests on a rusty revolver the teen allegedly fired at gang officers.

"This is an extensive, ongoing investigation that will examine all aspects of the shooting," Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Andrew Neiman said Thursday.

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Police say Romero fired on two Hollenbeck Division gang detail officers early Tuesday evening after a brief chase down busy Cesar Chavez Avenue and Breed Street.

The officers, who wore full-duty uniforms, were responding to a call of a two teens writing gang-type graffiti and engaging in possible narcotics activity near Cesar Chavez Avenue and Chicago Street. Romero, who would have turned 15 in two weeks, bolted from the officers, who gave chase.

At least one civilian witness told detectives that Romero shot at police before he was killed, Neiman said.

The department's Force Investigation Division continues to canvass the neighborhood in search of additional witnesses. Investigators are also reviewing video from the officers' body cameras and will break the images down frame by frame.

Yet as officials piece together evidence of the shooting, very different versions of the incident have spread among area residents.

According to a woman who said she saw the shooting but declined to give her name, Romero pulled the revolver from his waistband, threw it against a fence and ran. The gun fired when it hit the ground, she told The Times.

According to two gun experts, that's not an impossible scenario, given the age and condition of the gun police showed at a news conference Wednesday.

"This is an antique revolver, probably a .38 caliber, which does not have a modern safety device that prevents accidental discharges when dropped on its hammer," Gregory Lee, a retired supervisory special agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency, wrote in an email. "It most probably fired when it was dropped."

The caliber of bullet fired was either .38 or .22, said Scott Reitz, co-founder of International Tactical Training in Los Angeles who worked for the LAPD for 30 years.

The gun is in poor condition, "not well kept, rusty and so forth" and was probably manufactured in the 1940s, Reitz said.

"If the internal mechanisms are worn, it's possible if it's dropped it could go off," Reitz said. "If you were to look at the outside, how it's not cared for, it's probably dry as a bone on the inside."

He said police could perform a drop test,  such as dropping the gun 50 times with a cocked hammer to see if it would fire.

The LAPD has declined to say whether Romero belonged to a gang, citing their ongoing investigation, but social media tributes to the boy featured gang signs and names.

Romero had attended Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School until May 16, 2016,  according to Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman Shannon Haber.

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He later was a client of a program at Soledad Enrichment Action, a nonprofit that includes a charter high school network as well as gang prevention and intervention programs.

For the second night in a row Thursday, protesters planned to gather at Breed Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue, where the shooting occurred. An organizer of the event said participants were demanding an independent investigation of the incident, and charged that the LAPD couldn't be trusted to investigate itself.

"I have a hard time believing that the LAPD or the Sheriff's Department can independently and objectively investigate officer-involved shootings," said Jaime Segall-Gutierrez, a civil rights attorney and an East L.A. resident. Segall-Gutierrez said he would like the U.S. attorney's office, in particular the civil rights division, to investigate the shooting.

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