An attorney for the family of a 14-year-old boy killed by a Los Angeles police officer released body camera footage Tuesday of the controversial 2016 encounter, arguing that the recordings show that the boy had tossed his gun and was unarmed when he was shot.
Humberto Guizar released two clips recorded by the body cameras of two officers who responded to a vandalism report behind a North Chicago Street apartment complex, where the teen, Jesse Romero, was with a group of boys tagging graffiti.
Two-and-a-half minutes into the footage, the officers spot at least two boys outside the complex. One starts running, and the two officers give chase down Cesar Chavez Avenue. At least one shouts multiple times for the boy to stop.
Less than a minute later, as the officers approach a street corner, a gunshot is heard. Officer Eden Medina, who is in front, pauses at a pay phone and appears to peek around the corner.
“Shots fired,” one said.
“Shots are fired, shots fired, officer needs help,” the other said.
Medina turns onto Breed Street with his gun drawn, and gunfire echoes.
“Get down!” a voice shouts.
“Let me see your [expletive] hands!”
As the officers approach, Jesse is lying on the sidewalk, wounded. A revolver is seen on the other side of a wrought-iron fence.
The recordings do not show Jesse getting shot. But his family’s attorney argued that if Jesse was holding a gun when Medina peered around the corner, the officer would not have walked into the line of fire.
Because the gun was found several feet away, Jesse tossed it before he was shot. There’s “no way” he could have thrown a gun over a fence while wounded, Guizar said.
He said Jesse was struck twice: in his stomach and chest.
“The video shows that when the officer fired at the kid, he fired at him when he wasn’t a threat,” Guizar said. “He didn’t have a gun in his hand, and he killed him.”
In a statement released Tuesday, the LAPD said it was aware of the video release and pointed to its “thorough investigation” of the shooting. The department said the inspector general and the Los Angeles Police Commission determined that the use of force was appropriate.
The department “understands that any time that an officer uses deadly force that ends in a fatality it is a painful tragedy,” the statement said. “This is why the LAPD, its oversight bodies and the Los Angeles district attorney’s office scrutinize these incidents as closely as possible to ensure that the use of deadly force was appropriate to defend the life of the officer or members of the public.”
The shooting set off protests in Jesse’s Boyle Heights neighborhood and reignited the debate over how officers use deadly force. It was the second time in 12 days that Medina had fatally shot someone.
The boy’s parents filed a federal lawsuit against Medina and the city, alleging that police violated their son’s civil rights, used excessive force and denied him timely medical care.
Los Angeles County prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against the officer, saying in an 11-page memo that Medina reasonably believed the teenager posed a deadly threat and used “reasonable force” to defend himself and others.
Central to the controversy surrounding the shooting was whether Jesse fired at police or whether the gun went off after the teenager tossed it away. After examining and testing the revolver, prosecutors wrote, an investigator said the “most likely explanation of the evidence was that the revolver was fired, then dropped.”
According to a report from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck last year, one officer saw Jesse crouched on the sidewalk, his right arm extended toward them. Thinking Jesse was going to shoot, Medina fired his gun twice, hitting the teenager.
But a woman who said she saw the shooting told The Times that as Jesse ran, she saw him pull a gun from his basketball shorts and throw it toward a fence. The gun hit the fence and fell to the ground, she said, and she heard the weapon fire.
Three people who saw the shooting from a nearby car told investigators they saw Jesse throw a gun up and toward the fence, the prosecutors’ memo said. The gun hit the top of the fence, fell on the sidewalk and “discharged upon impact with the ground,” according to the memo.