LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge on Friday declined to grant police summary judgment in a police shooting case that inspired community vigils and sparked protests among police accountability activists seeking to change use-of-force guidelines.
Jesse Romero, a high school student, was shot and killed by Los Angeles Police Department officer Eden Medina on Aug. 9, 2016. A civil rights lawsuit filed by Romero’s family said Romero was walking home when he was chased by Medina.
Romero, 14, was unarmed when he was found dead but LAPD said a gun was recovered at the scene.
The city of Los Angeles, the LAPD and Medina are named defendants in the case.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee declined the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and also indicated she would not extend qualified immunity to Medina.
Gee said she was not making a “credibility determination” of the evidence in the case but instead was taking it into account.
Defendant’s counsel, Laura Inlow of Collinson Daehnke Inlow and Greco, said in court Friday her clients are “disconcerted” by Gee’s use of the world “children” to describe Romero and other youth who LAPD officers said they encountered that evening.
Citing the recent case Easley v. City of Riverside, Inlow said Gee should extend qualified immunity to Medina because the officer had reason to believe his safety and the safety of those around him was threatened.
Romero was clutching his waistband while he ran, ignored police lights and sirens and refused to respond to repeated orders to stop, Inlow said.
In the Easley case, Inlow said the officer clearly saw the victim’s gun and shot him in response. The officer was granted qualified immunity after it was determined he had probable cause to use deadly force.
Gee said the comparison of Easley to Romero’s case was a “close call” but not enough to extend immunity to Medina.
Romero’s attorney, Humberto Guizar of Guizar, Henderson & Carrazco, initially declined to respond to Inlow’s arguments and asked Gee if he should approach the lectern.
“I think you should,” Gee said.
Guizar said Inlow was “manipulating” elements of the case and presenting them as facts. He also claimed Medina’s sworn testimony contradicts the position taken by his attorneys.
“Counsel is trying to argue her own facts,” Guizar said.
While responding to a vandalism complaint on Aug. 9, 2016, LAPD officers encountered Romero and a group of young boys at the corner of Chicago Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue in the east Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights.
Officers chased Romero down Breed Street where a gun had been thrown over a fence. A gunshot was fired, prompting officers to duck behind a phone booth. After peering from behind the booth, Medina saw Romero heading away from him down the street and shot him.
The Los Angeles Fire Department responded to the scene and determined Romero had died.
Romero was one of six people shot in 2016 by officers in the department’s Hollenbeck Division, which patrols the city’s east side.
The lawsuit called Medina’s actions “willful, wanton, malicious, and done with reckless disregard.”
In the complaint, Guizar claimed defendants failed to provide timely medical treatment to Romero after he was shot.
Medina had also shot and killed a man in a separate police shooting just 12 days before the Romero shooting.
Los Angeles County prosecutors declined to criminally charge Medina, saying in a Feb. 28 report that Medina had reason to believe Romero posed a threat to him, his partner and others.
The Los Angeles Police Commission also cleared Medina of any wrongdoing, prompting Romero’s parents, Teresa Dominguez and Jesus Romero, to file their lawsuit on June 20, 2017.
The family is seeking survival damages and wrongful death damages under federal and state law as well as punitive damages.
Trial is set to begin Nov. 13. A final pretrial conference hearing is scheduled on Oct. 9.