LOS ANGELES (CN) – An attorney for the parents of a 14-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a Los Angeles Police Department officer in 2016 said Friday in closing arguments of their wrongful death trial that the officer’s actions were driven by anger and not his training.
Officers Eden Medina and Alejandro Higareda responded to a call on Aug. 9, 2016 of a group of teens spraying graffiti on walls in the east Los Angeles community of Boyle Heights. When they approached the group, two of the teens, including Jesse Romero, ran off.
The officers said in sworn statements that they believed Romero had a gun because he was clutching his waistband as he glanced back at them.
After he rounded a corner at Breed Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue, Romero tossed the gun over a tall fence, causing it to hit the concrete with an impact that forced 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. Paramedics were called but Romero died at the scene.
Humberto Guizar, an attorney for the Romero family, told jurors that the officers decided too quickly to use deadly force when they could have taken Romero into custody instead.
“[Romero] had his hands up and they shot him,” Guizar said. “He was in a state of surrender.”
Norma Gonzalez, a Boyle Heights resident who was parked near the site of the incident and witnessed the shooting, corroborated Guizar’s argument.
Gonzalez said in a sworn statement that Romero had his hands in the air and had lowered down to one knee when he was shot. Court filings also show that a gun was found 10 feet from Romero’s body and that no gunpowder residue was found on Romero’s clothes or hands.
But Medina said in a sworn statement that he feared for his safety and the safety of Higareda. He said he couldn’t have known what Romero was doing after the first shot was fired, adding that he fired his gun after seeing Romero crouched down with his hands raised.
The officers’ body cameras did not capture the moment of the shooting, but they did record the entire sequence leading up to it, which Guizar raised as a red flag.
Guizar, with the firm Guizar Henderson and Carrazco, told jurors Medina was upset that Romero ran from him but his training should have dictated he use only reasonable force to subdue him.
“That the officer felt subjective fear is not enough to excuse deadly use of force,” Guizar said. “A trained officer who is overcome by emotion can lead to other innocent people dying.”
Cory Brente, attorney with the City Attorney’s office representing the defendants, told jurors that Romero “created the dangerous situation” by turning a vagrancy call into a life threatening situation for the officers.
Brente said the officers followed their training “to a ‘T’ and by the book” by calling for backup and tracking Romero as he ran.
“What is relevant in this case are the facts known to Medina, not 20/20 hindsight which is always perfect,” Brente said. “Both officers believed Jesse was armed. They don’t have bionic eyes and ears to see what we know now.”
Romero’s parents, Teresa Dominguez and Jesus Romero Garcia, said in their June 2017 lawsuit that the officers, the LAPD and the city of Los Angeles violated Romero’s Fourth Amendment right against unlawful seizure and Fourteenth Amendment rights to a familial relationship.
In August, U.S District Judge Dolly Gee denied Medina’s motion for summary judgment regarding the plaintiff’s excessive force and wrongful death claims and also indicated she would not extend qualified immunity to Medina.
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, which also noted that Medina had shot and killed another man in a separate police shooting just 12 days before shooting Romero.
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.
Jurors were excused for the weekend and will restart deliberations Monday.