Among conflicting accounts of how a teen boy was shot to death by LAPD officers in a commercial district in Boyle Heights, mourners and activists gathered at a vigil and marched in memory of those killed in officer involved shootings in this Eastside Los Angeles neighborhood.
Police say that a witness saw 14-year-old Jesse Romero shoot at officers that were pursuing him before one of them shot and killed the teen Tuesday evening. Although initially police reported the victim as being a 20-year-old man, Los Angeles County Coroner’s office identified the teen as Jesse James Romero, who would have turned 15 on Aug. 24.
At a press conference Wednesday morning, LAPD Deputy Chief Robert Arcos offered few details on the fatal shooting. According to KPCC, Arcos said that officers from the Hollenbeck Division gang detail were called just after 5:30 p.m. with information about possible gang-related vandalism near Chicago Street and César Chávez Avenue.
When officers arrived they found two male suspects. Arcos said that one was detained at the location but that Romero took off running East on César Chávez and eventually south on Breed Street, with officers in pursuit. According to Arcos, that’s when a witness saw Romero shoot at the officers with a handgun. One of the officers returned fire and struck Romero, who was later pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.
A loaded gun was recovered at the scene and Arcos said it was being processed for DNA. He said that officers were wearing body cameras and investigators are reviewing the video.
— LAPD HQ (@LAPDHQ) August 10, 2016
“While the loss of life is particularly tragic, it is particularly so when the loss involves a youth,” Arcos said. “The tragedy of this event cannot be understated. In a community where violent crime continues to rise, particularly gang crime, this event underscores the need for youth programs and outreach, which could provide opportunities and alternatives for the youth of our community.”
Arcos could not confirm that officers saw Romero shoot at them and that they were still going through the investigation process. “I’m not sure of the statements from the officers,” Arcos said.
But a woman who said she witnessed the shooting told the Los Angeles Times that Romero never shot his handgun. The woman, who did not give the newspaper her full name, said she was stopped at a traffic light on Breed and César Chávez when she saw someone wearing shorts and running from Chicago Street. When the runner turned on Breed, she said, he pulled a handgun from his waistband and threw it against a fence. The gun hit the fence and fell to the ground when it fired, the witness told the paper. She then heard two more gunshots and saw the runner falling to the ground before officers placed handcuffs on him.
Romero was the 12th person killed in an officer involved shooting in Los Angeles so far this year. According to a tally by Boyle Heights Beat, he was the fifth person killed by LAPD officers in Boyle Heights this year.
On Wednesday evening, more than 100 mourners and activists gathered for a vigil at Mariachi Plaza, before beginning a march along 1st Street towards the Hollenbeck Police Station, where several speakers addressed the crowd, some demanding justice for the families of those killed by police. Among the marchers, several carried a poster with a picture of Jesse Romero and others carried signs that said “Stop Killing Our Youth” or “F*** the Police.”
The marchers then continued on to Breed Street, to the spot where Jesse Romero was killed, There, near a power pole, a makeshift altar was created with a picture of the teen and several roses and candles laid out in a colorful sarape. More speakers addressed the crowd, including the father of 16-year-old José Méndez, shot and killed by LAPD in February.
Photo above: a marcher carries a poster with a picture of Jesse Romero. Photo by Art Torres.
This story was updated on August 10 to include details from the LAPD press conference, other witness accounts, and the march held Wednesday night.
Read other related stories: