By Frank Stoltze/LAist
Originally published Sep 29, 2021
The fatal shooting of an unarmed man in East L.A. by the California Highway Patrol on Tuesday is under investigation by the California Department of Justice, according to Attorney General Rob Bonta.
Meanwhile, the family of the man who was killed — 24-year-old Leonel Chávez — plans to file a complaint, according to its lawyer, Humberto Guízar. A complaint is a precursor to a wrongful death lawsuit.
Under a law that took effect July 1, the state DOJ is required to investigate police shootings that result in the death of an unarmed person.
A statement from the CHP acknowledged a fatal shooting occurred around 3:30 p.m. after officers responded to a non-injury traffic collision, but it said nothing about the circumstances, nor how many officers opened fire.
The incident occurred at the corner of Medford St. and North Indiana St., near the USC Keck School of Medicine.
Chávez “was involved in a motor vehicle accident, he got out, he was confused, he was arguing with the cops, and they tried to Tase him,” Guízar said.
“Two independent witnesses said [Chavez] clearly did not have a weapon — a knife or a gun,” he said, and claimed the officers shot Chávez seven times.
‘They Panicked…And They Just Shot Him Dead’
“They panicked, they overreacted and they just shot him dead,” he said. “The law says you cannot use deadly force unless your life is in imminent danger of great bodily harm or death.”
Guízar, a well-known civil rights attorney who regularly represents the families of people shot by police, said he knew Chávez from playing basketball with him at a local gym.
“This is a very personal shooting for me,” he said.
Guízar said Chávez was not a gang member, had no tattoos, “none of that negative evidence.”
Chávez lived in the Ramona Gardens public housing project in Boyle Heights and worked as a security guard, according to Guízar. He added one reason Chávez may have been so upset after the traffic collision was that his 2020 Honda Civic had just been repaired at an auto body shop.
“It’s so tragic and unnecessary,” Guízar said.