LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal jury on Monday cleared a Los Angeles Police Department officer of unlawful deadly force claims for the 2016 shooting death of 14-year-old Jesse Romero.
The eight-member jury deliberated through Monday morning and returned a verdict in the late afternoon, finding that officer Eden Medina did not violate Romero’s 4th Amendment and 14th Amendment rights when he shot and killed him. Medina was also cleared of excessive force and wrongful death claims.
Medina, and his partner, officer Alejandro Higareda, said in sworn statements that they believed Romero had a gun because he was clutching his waistband as he glanced back at them while they chased him down Cesar Chavez Avenue on Aug. 9, 2016 in Boyle Heights.
After turning a corner, Romero tossed the gun over a tall fence, causing it to hit the concrete with an impact that caused the gun to fire a single round, according to court filings.
Four seconds after Medina turned the corner, already on alert because of the gunshot, he fired two rounds at Romero, killing him.
Norma Gonzalez, a witness in the case, said in a sworn statement that Romero was unarmed, had his hands in the air and had lowered down to one knee when he was shot by Medina.
After the verdict was read, U.S District Judge Dolly Gee said that while she could not comment on the case, she could describe it as “tragic, on many levels.”
Romero’s parents, Teresa Dominguez and Jesus Romero Garcia, who filed the June 2017 federal civil rights lawsuit, were guided out of the courtroom by more than a dozen community activists, who themselves were flanked by six court marshals who had kept a watchful eye on them as the verdict was read.
As the defendants and their attorneys walked out of the courtroom, activists yelled out, “jail killer cops.”
Carlos Montes with Boyle Heights organization Centro Community Service Organization said in an interview that the verdict was “an injustice.” As the defendants passed him, Montes also yelled out, “Medina, you’ve got another trial coming.”
Montes was referring to a March 2019 state court trial of Medina over the shooting death of 36-year-old Omar Gonzalez in Boyle Heights, an incident that took place just 12 days before the shooting death of Romero.
Plaintiff’s attorney Humberto Guizar with the firm Guizar Henderson and Carrazco said in an interview that the verdict was “devastating” and the outcome could have been different if the jury was allowed to hear about the Gonzalez shooting death as evidence in the trial.
Information about the Gonzalez shooting was ordered to be excluded as evidence in the case.
Guizar, who said he hadn’t decided whether he will appeal the verdict, called the officers’ actions “an affront and an attack on our community and our rights.”
Romero was one of six people shot in 2016 by officers in the department’s Hollenbeck Division, which patrols the city’s east side, according to the initial complaint.
After leaving court, many of the activists walked down the street to attend a weekly protest outside of Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office.
Organizers of the protest, which Romero’s parents have attended in the past, have called on Lacey to resign over her decision to decline criminal charges against officers who shoot and kill civilians unlawfully.
In February, Lacey declined to criminally charge Medina, saying in an 11-page report that the officer had reason to believe his life was in danger and that he used “reasonable force” to defend himself.
The city attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.