CONFLICTING VERSIONS OF A BOY’S DEATH UPSETS COMMUNITY
Jesse James Romero was 14-years-old and would have turned fifteen this month.
Instead, he was fatally shot by a member of Los Angeles Police Department on Tuesday of last week. The death of the Boyle Heights teenager has drawn an unusual amount of attention from local community members who want more answers than they say they are being given by LAPD officials.
Romero was a student at Mendez High School and a smart kid who applied himself to school work, according to friends, but he also skated the edge of gangs, they said, and had been harassed by members of other so-called “enemy” gangs. Yet he was enrolled in a gang intervention program at Soledad Enrichment Center (SEA) where he was reportedly doing well.
The shooting occurred after officers assigned to the gang detail from the Hollenbeck Division of the LAPD got a complaint at about 5:35 p.m. on Tuesday, about some possible tagging in progress near Chicago Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue, a few blocks away from where the Hollenbeck police station is located on 1st Street in Boyle Heights. When the officers rolled up on the two teenagers at the location, one of the boys was detained. But the other one ran, and officers gave chase.
The boy who ran was Jesse Romero.
What happened after he ran from the police is, at present, open to dispute.
The LAPD says that detectives spoke to a witness who saw Romero fire a handgun in the direction of the pursuing officers. And then, according to the witness, one of the officers, who were both in full uniform, fired back killing him.
But a second witness, who also said she saw the sequence of events, told Los Angeles Times reporters that she was “in a car stopped at a traffic light at Cesar Chavez and Breed Street,” where the shooting took place, when she saw someone running along Cesar Chavez Avenue, from Chicago Street. As the young runner turned onto Breed, the witness told the LA Times, he pulled a handgun from his waistband and threw it toward a metal fence. The gun hit the fence and fell onto the ground, at which point she heard the thing fire. Then she heard two more gunshots and saw the teenage runner fall to the ground.
“HE WAS JUST TRYING TO GET AWAY”
WitnessLA spoke to a third witness, who declined to allow his name to be used, but who heard the first shot and a few seconds later saw Romero running south on Breed St. then saw the officers speeding behind him having turned the corner from Cesar Chavez to Breed. The witness described seeing one officer extend his arm and shoot the running teenager twice in the back. Then the boy fell.
The angle was such that witness said he did not see whether or not Romero had a gun in his hands nor did he see him throw it.
“When I saw him, he was just trying to get away,” said the witness. “And the officer shot him.”
At a press conference on Wednesday, LAPD Deputy Chief Robert Arcos, explained to reporters that officers heard a gunshot as they turned the corner from Cesar Chavez to Breed and one officer fired at Romero and hit him. Arcos also reported that police had recovered a handgun near Romero’s body. The LAPD provided a photo of the handgun—a revolver*—that appears to be notably old and poorly maintained. According to those familiar with such guns, it could be a 1940’s era .38 or .22. (The Times showed the photo to a couple of experts who said this particular kind of revolver, if not well-maintained, could very well fire accidently if it was dropped or tossed on to a hard surface. )
A video taken by a bystander appeared on Democracy Now and shows officers handcuffing the limp body of Jesse Romero, next to a metal fence, with the gun lying on the other side of the fence from his body.
“LET THE CHIPS FALL”
So what is true?
LAPD officials have told reporters and others that the body cam videos from the cameras worn by the officers involved are intact and are being examined.
And the rusty gun found near to Romero is being tested for DNA and fingerprints.
The police have not mentioned testing Romero’s hands for gun shot residue, but one assumes that such a test has been done.
A retired LA County Sheriff’s department supervisor with experience in such things assured us that gun shot residue test can be done very quickly, “even at the scene,” if need be, he said. So presumably the police know if Jesse Romero fired that gun or not, even without the body cam videos.
But the videos are expected to be the true tie breaker.
Civil Rights lawyer Jorge Gonzalez, who is one of the attorneys representing Romero’s mother, held a press conference on Friday calling for the release of the videos.
“Be transparent! Let us see the videos now, and then let the chips fall,” Gonzalez said to us over the weekend regarding what he wants from the LAPD. “If the videos show that Jesse shot at police, and had that gun when he was shot, then we’ll withdraw our lawsuit.
“But,” Gonzalez continued, “if Jesse threw the gun, like the other witness says he did, “and when the gun hit the ground it went off,—“meaning, he didn’t have the gun when he was shot….well, that’s a whole different story.”
Gonzalez was also critical of the LAPD for telling reporters about the witness’s version of events that best matched the police narrative, while dragging their feet on producing hard evidence that would tip the scales.
In the meantime, community members held a vigil on Wednesday night calling for “justice” for Romero, and two other young Boyle Heights men shot this year by police, and on Saturday a several dozen demonstrated during the day in front of the Hollenbeck police station.
On Friday night, at Pasadena’s Levitt Pavilion, the musical group Quezal, dedicated their last song of the night to Jesse Romero.
Yet, not all of the talk in the community has been focused on the actions of the police. On Friday, August 12, the group “Building Healthy Communities held a press conference at the Ross Valencia Community Park at the corner of Chicago and 1st Streets to talk about the need for an increase in investment in Boyle Heights kids…like Jesse. Youth activists said that the city of LA spends $653 per resident on police and $43 per youth, while there are approximately 800,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 in the Boyle Heights area alone.
And then on Sunday at Dolores Mission Church, community women held a food sale after each mass to raise money for Jesse Romero’s mother to help pay for the funeral service for her son. Other community members have donated through GoFundMe
EDITOR’S NOTE: The LA Times has been doing excellent ongoing coverage of Jesse Romero’s death and its aftermath, so be sure to check out their stories.
CORRECTION: 8-16-2016: We originally and erroneously wrote “pistol” when describing the gun. It’s a revolver. Also, experts tell us it could be a .22 caliber.
If he threw it, it went off, they didn’t see him throw it and felt they were being fired at it’s a good shoot. Nice photo pick, not the the one with him and his gang pals in their gangster poses showing their gang pride, how you always take their side can always be counted on Celeste.
Sure Fire…Be glad it’s not a pic with a graduation cap photoshopped onto his head with the caption; “He was a day away from leaving the gang life. Just before he was murdered by those officers, he had told his fellow gang members that he was going to join the Boy Scouts.”
Common factor, the person that gets shot does not obey orders and runs from police. Follow orders and nothing will happen.
This kid was the unlucky one. He was picked by his friends to carry the gun. Probably because he was the youngest one in the group. Nothing going to happen to a juve…….charge his friends for giving him the gun.
Same old story played out in the same old way and always, always blame Blue.
Sadly his death probably saved a life. He wasn’t carrying a gun because he didn’t intend to use it. He was going to put in work and LAPD saved a life by dumping this dirtbag. How are those body cams working out anyway? They show the truth and the ignorant don’t care, burn baby burn.
Sure Fire….your badge licking is showing.
Never once in any articles does it mention commands being given. Never once does it mention field tests. Yet experts have weighed in that a rusty 1940’s gun would fire if dropped.
Charlie Beck is one of the worst chief’s in the history of the LAPD his own rank and file despise him.
Hello C, could you please post his gang related photo. Many believe this shooting involved a 14 year old honor student. In all fairness and to avoid bias on your part, please post the photo. I’m sure you have seen it. If not, I’ll send it to you.
Typical liberal reporter language. First minimize the weapon, see it’s just an old “poorly maintained” antique, gosh ,hardly even a real gun when you think about it. (By the way how can you tell how it’s been maintained by just looking at the picture? Oh that’s right “experts”say so) Next comes the typical passive voice, the gun turnes into a “thing” that just went off. Irrespective of what the reporter hints at and what the ambulance chasing attorney says, this looks like a very legal shooting. Maybe they’ll get the officer an some new “tactics violation” to appease the mob.
It may seem like nit-picking, but that’s a revolver not a pistol. A “pistol” has the barrel and bullet chamber connected in a single piece. Also, it looks to me that it’s more likely a .22 than a .38 caliber. And, yes, I was certified to testify as a firearms expert in CA Superior Court.
Dear P.O.I. No that’s not nit-picking at all. Thank you. Arrrrggghhh. I meant to write revolver. It’s a dumb mistake on my part. And, yes, actually most experts said it could be a .38 or a .22.
When I looked again just now at photos of revolvers of that era, I think you’re right. It looks a little more like a .22.
In any case, I appreciate your comment and your expertise. I have made the appropriate corrections.
PS: To everyone else who has commented on the gun. No one is suggesting it is any less dangerous because it is old and poorly maintained. In fact, it is likely more dangerous because it could be unpredictable due to its lack of maintenance.
And, no, I’m not going to put up the sign-throwing photo, although I have it. Nor did I choose to put up the much younger photo that makes him look more babyish and innocent, which a number of press outlets used. I used the most neutral, current and representative photo of Jesse Romero.
I’m sorry if the full details of this kid’s life don’t make him seem as one-note stereotypically gangster-ish as a few of you would prefer. For the record, some of my sources are personally knowledgeable about the specific neighborhood in which he claimed membership, and in a position to know how involved he was or was not. It appears he was a kid trying to find himself. AND, he was young, which means he was by definition dumb at times. And he made the foolish and tragic choice to carry a gun. That choice cost him his life.
P.O.I, thank you again for your corrections.
Hey Puppy, I wrote if and even then with a chuckle for the cop haters like you. You’ve never seen me and never will see me write anything positive on Beck, if you have post it cause I was obviously drunk. Gangsters like this now dead one are a plague, one less one is always good with me…always.
A kid trying to find himself huh?
Sure, glad multiple rounds found him before he murdered someone and found “himself.”
Now the gun is “unpredictable”. It’s not that Jesse made the decision to carry a deadly weapon, and by most accounts, use it against the police.It was that darn unpredictable gun. By the way, was Jesse’s decision to shoot at the persuing officers just something any “dumb” kid would do? Or was it just another “foolish and tragic choice”?
Hey Celste, how about posting all 3 pics? The babyish one, the neutral one and the gangster one. That would show all sides. Or is unbiased journalism really dead?