Prosecutors declined to file charges against a Los Angeles police officer who fatally shot an armed 14-year-old boy in Boyle Heights in 2016 -- a shooting the city Police Commission had already deemed to be justified, according to a memo released Monday by the District Attorney's Office.
Jesse James Romero was killed around 5:50 p.m. Aug. 9, 2016, near Breed Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue. Officers responding to a graffiti call said they believed the boy fired a shot at them from around a corner, although his parents claim in a federal lawsuit filed in 2017 that the gun discharged when the teen threw it over a fence.
The D.A.'s Justice System Integrity Division concluded that "Officer (Eden) Medina used reasonable force in self-defense and defense of others."
According to the memo, dated Feb. 28, Medina and Officer Alejandro Higareda responded to a vandalism call and activated their body cameras before approaching the apartment complex, which Higareda recognized as a gang hangout.
They spotted three people, and Romero and another person ran off with officers giving chase on foot. Higareda saw Romero grabbing his waistband, believed he might be armed and called for backup. He advised Medina to follow Romero, according to the memo.
A video surveillance camera captured Romero running with a gun in his waistband.
Before rounding a corner, the officers heard a gunshot and believed he was firing at them, according to the memo and an earlier report by Chief Charlie Beck.
When Medina turned the corner, he reported seeing Romero in a squatting position, with his right hand extended out, and fired two rounds in response. At least one of the shots struck the teen, who was the second suspect to be shot and killed by Medina in Boyle Heights in a 12-day period.
"It was reasonable for Medina to believe there was significant and imminent danger to himself, to his partner, and to the many people in the vicinity at that time, from an armed man who was refusing to comply with law enforcement," the D.A.'s memo concluded.
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The reports did not state that Medina actually saw the gun in Romero's hand, and the officer's body camera footage showed that the weapon was found behind a wrought-iron fence.
An investigator who tested the revolver determined that the "most likely explanation of the evidence was that the revolver was fired, then dropped."
Three witnesses to the shooting from a nearby car contradicted that finding, saying they saw Romero pull the gun from his waistband and throw it toward the fence, where it fell onto the ground and fired, the Los Angeles Times reported.
A woman told The Times that after he threw the gun at the fence, Romero turned around and looked startled after a shot went off and before two more gunshots brought him to the ground.
Another witness in a parked car told investigators she saw Romero shoot in the direction of the officers.
The lawsuit claimed the boy was shot in the back.
"It would have been impossible for Jesse to have the gun in his hand at the time the officers shot him in the back," Humberto Guizar, an attorney for Romero's family, said in June.
An autopsy revealed a fatal wound to Romero's chest and a non-fatal "through-and-through" gunshot wound through his stomach and exiting his hip, according to the D.A.'s memo.
A gunshot residue test of Romero was "inconclusive."
The lawsuit alleges the LAPD delayed getting medical assistance for the teen, and lacked probable cause to stop him and to use deadly force against him. In doing so, Romero was deprived of his civil rights and Medina caused his wrongful death, the suit alleges.
The lawsuit also alleges the LAPD has failed to properly train and supervise its officers, leading to the unnecessary and unreasonable use of excessive force, and used unconstitutional police tactics to investigate use-of-force incidents.
"The LAPD has fostered a culture of allowing its officers to shoot people and get way with it, and not discipline them and not take them off the streets," Guizar alleged.
Romero's mother spoke to police commissioners before their 3-1 vote in the case last July.
"There's no justification for why they killed my son," Teresa Dominguez said in Spanish.
The board ruled the shooting was within department policy, in agreement with Beck's report, though the panel ruled unanimously that one of the officer's tactics leading up to the shooting was not within policy.