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Los Angeles gang member charged with capital murder in killings of Whittier officer and cousin

Michael Christopher Mejia was jailed and released repeatedly for violating his probation.

A Los Angeles gang member was charged Wednesday with capital murder in the deaths of his cousin and a Whittier police officer during a morning of deadly violence last week in which authorities allege he also wounded another police officer.

Michael C. Mejia, 26, a convicted felon with a history of drugs and violent criminal activity, is accused of killing his cousin, Roy Torres, in the early hours of Feb. 20 in East Los Angeles before fleeing with Torres' car and crashing  into two other vehicles at a Whittier intersection.

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When Police Officers Keith Boyer, 53, and Patrick Hazell came to the scene of the accident, they ordered Mejia out of his car, and he opened fire as they approached him, prosecutors allege.

Mejia killed Boyer and wounded Hazell, authorities said. Mejia was wounded during the gun battle.

He was charged with two counts of murder and one count each of attempted murder, carjacking and possession of a firearm by a felon. He also faces special circumstance allegations of multiple murders, the murder of a police officer and murder to escape arrest, making him subject to the death penalty.

Mejia is slated to be arraigned Thursday in a Bellflower courtroom.

After the shooting, Mejia was taken to a hospital and initially booked for violating probation.

If convicted of the charges, Mejia faces the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors said a decision on whether to seek capital punishment would be made later.

At the time of the killings, Mejia was under the supervision of the Los Angeles County Probation Department. Mejia had been jailed and released for violating probation five times since the summer of 2016.

Mejia had previously served a prison sentence for grand theft auto and earlier had been sentenced to four years in prison for robbery and gang membership.

The Feb. 20 slayings came just over a week after he finished his latest jail stint. Sheriff's homicide investigators said that while on probation Mejia repeatedly served short jail sentences for violations including possessing narcotics and fleeing police officers.

Some critics blame criminal justice reform measures, particularly AB 109, for putting Mejia back on the street.

In response to prison overcrowding, Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011 spearheaded AB 109, which shifted many inmates from state prisons to county jails. The measure also allowed some inmates to serve a "split sentence," with part of the time on probation instead of behind bars.

State corrections officials have said that AB 109 played no role in Mejia's release and that he served his full prison terms.

Two Los Angeles County supervisors have launched an investigation into the probation department's handling of Mejia and why his probation had not been revoked.

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Twitter: @LAcrimes

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