The fatal shooting last year of 14-year-old Jesse Romero by a Los Angeles police officer in Boyle Heights was justified and complied with department policy, the L.A. Police Commission ruled Tuesday.
The civilian panel, appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, voted 3-1 in closed session that Officer Eden Medina reasonably feared for his life when he shot Romero twice last August. Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill was the lone dissenter. Commissioner Steve Soboroff was absent.
Romero was among the youngest people ever killed by the LAPD. The decision prompted a tearful response from Romero's mother, who attended the meeting in a T-shirt emblazoned with her son's image.
"Very bad, very bad," Teresa Dominguez said through a translator. "I don't have the words. I don't have the words."
Earlier, she had urged the commission to call the shooting unjustified.
“We’re here to demand justice,” she said. “What was the justification for killing a 14-year-old young man, who they accused of being a so-called gang member?”
She and Romero’s father also asked that the police department release video from the cameras of the officers involved in the shooting. The family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the department.
Romero's shooting in Boyle Heights sparked angry protests amid the still roiling national debate over police use of force.
Two anti-gang officers chased after Romero after seeing him writing gang-style graffiti on a building near the corner of Chicago Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue, the LAPD has said. They heard a gunshot and then went around a corner onto Breed Street, where they saw Romero crouching on the sidewalk with one arm extended toward them, according to the department.
Believing the boy was about to shoot at them, Officer Eden Medina fired two shots, killing Romero.
Just 12 days earlier, Medina fatally shot Omar Gonzalez as he was fighting with officers after a short car chase. Community activists said Medina should not have been back on the streets so soon after the Gonzalez shooting.
One witness reportedly has said Romero never shot at police, that he instead tossed the gun he was carrying – a vintage revolver – over a fence and that it went off accidentally. The gun was found on the other side of a fence about 10 feet away from Romero, according to the LAPD.
The commission also determined that the shooting of an 18-year-old man in downtown Los Angeles last year was justified.
Kenney Watkins, 18, was shot after Officer Evan Urias tried to pull a car over near the corner of Century Boulevard and Figueroa Street in downtown L.A. Watkins jumped out of the passenger side and started walking away, according to the LAPD, which said that when Watkins started turning toward Urias with a gun in his hand, the officer opened fire.
Watkins’s family also has filed a lawsuit claiming he was not armed and that the officer used excessive force.
Later during the police commission meeting, more than two dozen activists also asked the panel to delay its decision on the Watkins shooting because the mother was not present for the meeting.
When the decisions were announced, activists angrily denounced the commission, prompting police to declare an unlawful assembly and clear the commission meeting room inside LAPD headquarters.
The L.A. District Attorney's Office has yet to determine whether the officers who shot both Romero and Watkins were legally justified to do so. The DA rarely files criminal charges against an officer who has shot someone.