The wife of slain Bell Gardens Mayor Daniel Crespo was a longtime victim of domestic violence, according to her attorney, who said Thursday he hopes to meet with prosecutors and provide evidence to help them reach a “just conclusion” as they decide whether to file charges against her.
“For 26 years, she has been a devoted wife and a devoted mother to her family,” Eber Bayona said. “Looks at times may be deceiving. In this case, there may be an opportunity to learn about the difficult and intolerable home life for this family.
The attorney’s allegations have further shocked the blue-collar southeast city already reeling from the news that the mayor had been fatally shot multiple times by his wife of 28 years who he often referred to as his high school sweetheart.
EGPNews/Bell Gardens Sun Archive Photo: Levette Crespo, 43, and Daniel Crespo, Jr., 19, joined Mayor Daniel Crespo during his swearing-in ceremony at Bell Gardens City Hall in December 2013.
The city called in grief counselors Wednesday to help city employees deal with the loss and has said they may make the counselors available to city residents.
Asked at a news conference if Lyvette Crespo, 43, was a years-long victim of domestic violence, attorney Eber Bayona replied, “I think the evidence will corroborate that.”
“It’s so surreal, we are all in shock,” Councilwoman Priscilla Flores told EGP Wednesday.
“When I woke up this morning, I thought it must have been a dream, but it was real,” she said, still shaken by the killing of her council colleague and friend.
According to sheriff’s and county fire officials, the shooting occurred at about 2:30 p.m. at the Vinas La Campana townhome complex on the 6300 block of Gage Avenue where the Crespos lived.
Lyvette Crespo, 43 and her husband were involved in an argument when their 19-year-old son Daniel Jr. tried to intervene, according to the Sheriff’s Department. The mayor and his son then fought and the father allegedly punched his son in the face. That’s when authorities say Lyvette grabbed a gun and fatally shot her husband multiple times in the upper torso. He died en route to a hospital. Crespo was 45.
Both Lyvette Crespo and Daniel Jr., who was treated at a hospital for injuries suffered in the melee, went voluntarily to the Bell Gardens Police Station to be questioned, but neither was placed under arrest.
Sheriff’s officials said the investigation would be presented to the District Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether any criminal charges are warranted. Prosecutors said Wednesday they had not yet received the case from investigators.
At least two calls were made to 911, according to LA County Sheriff Homicide Detective Phil Guzman, who is handling the investigation. He said Daniel Jr. told authorities he made one of the calls; a neighbor may have also called. Police have not yet reviewed the 911 tapes, Guzman said Wednesday. Guzman said he was told the gun was registered to Crespo, an LA County probation officer, but added they are still verifying that information.
Guzman said they have also spoken to the couple’s 27-year-old daughter and some of their neighbors. “The investigation is ongoing,” he said.
The role of detectives is to gather as many facts, in some cases it becomes very apparent a crime took place, “sometimes it’s not that apparent,” he told EGP. “That’s when it needs to be reviewed by the D.A.”
Asked whether Lyvette had claimed self-defense, Guzman said, “her statements are the reasons why the D.A.’s office needs to examine the case.”
Bayona said he hopes to meet with prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Major Crimes Division to discuss the case before a charging decision is made.
“On behalf of my client and consistent with the policy of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, I will be asking and sending a letter to Major Crimes asking for a meeting with them to provide evidence, statements, photographs so they can reach a just conclusion in this case. We are confident that the District Attorney’s Office, who has a culture of fairness, compassion and justice, will do the right thing and follow the law.”
The circumstances surrounding the shooting have shocked many who knew the mayor and his family. Crespo often referred to his wife as his high school sweetheart, they were teenagers when they married.
Flores said Crespo often talked highly about his son, a musician who performed during the reception following the council swearing-in last December. “He was a good Dad.”
Neighbors gathered near the home Tuesday following the shooting were visibly distraught. Several people said they never expected anything like this, describing the Crespos as a close-knit and loving family.
One woman, speaking in Spanish, described the family as very “calm.” She said she had worked as a housekeeper for the family, but asked not to be identified by name.
A person driving by the home, yelled out “Lyvette is a good woman.”
“She must have been crazy,” said another neighbor in disbelief upon learning Lyvette had allegedly delivered the fatal gunshots.
“Some things just don’t make sense,” said Flores. “I really thought he was going to pull through.”
Thursday, Lynette Crespo’s attorney painted a different picture, saying things aren’t always as they seem.
“It seems that today we cannot turn a channel (on) television without hearing a story about a celebrity or a high-powered individual involved in domestic violence,” he said. “There was Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and now we’re dealing with Daniel Crespo.”
The mayor’s brother, William, vehemently denied Bayona’s allegations that Daniel Crespo was an abusive husband.
“It’s a lie,’” William Crespo said. “… He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s trying to, you know, make my brother look bad, when my brother’s not a bad man.”
William Crespo said he wanted Lyvette to be charged with at least second-degree murder.
“I don’t know why she didn’t call 911,” he said. “And I don’t know why she couldn’t just shoot him one time in the leg. She knows how to shoot a gun. They went to shooting ranges. She knows how to shoot a gun.”
Bayona and William Crespo spoke to reporters outside Bell Gardens City Hall, an important part of the slain mayor’s life.
Crespo was elected to the City Council in 2001 and over the years alternated between big reelection wins and nearly being unseated. He was a sometimes polarizing figure in city politics, but had a loyal following of city residents who believed he was always looking out for their interests.
He was the longest serving member on the city council. Over the years there were public disputes with council members and former city staff, including a police chief and city manager. The city manager, John Ornelas sought a restraining order against Crespo claiming he had threatened him and other city staff. The restraining order which was rejected by a judge.
Crespo was often the odd-member-out on the council, often to the irritation of his fellow council members.
Crespo was a hardliner when it came to city taxes and fees, often refusing to vote for hikes even when the fees being paid for city services were far below the cost of the services. The stance earned him praise from the city’s mostly working class, immigrant community.
“Our residents our low-income, they work hard but can’t afford their water rates to go up,” he said during an editorial board meeting with EGP last October about efforts to raise rates paid by customers of the city-owned water utility after 19 years of no increases .
In Bell Gardens, the position of mayor rotates year to year between council members, but it wasn’t until November 2013 that his fellow council members finally gave him the gavel.
At the time, he told EGP he was “completely caught by surprise” when former longtime council rivals Jennifer Rodriguez and Priscilla Flores backed him for the position, the result of his attempt to mend fences over the last couple of years. He told EGP last year that he wanted to work closer with others on the council, “for the good of the city.”
Flores said Wednesday that she is “so glad” Crespo had the chance to serve as mayor. She said he cared a lot about the city and always had the good of the city at heart.
“You know, we had many arguments and disagreements over the years, but I got to know him, and he was a very good man,” Flores said sadly. “The last two years have been a blessing, I’m glad I got to know the ‘real’ Crespo.”
Crespo said he was “deeply honored” to serve as mayor and pledged to represent “Bell Gardens working men and women with honor and integrity.”
He loved being mayor, adding the title to his email address and Facebook page.
In a statement from the city, Bell Gardens City Manager Philip Wagner said the mayor’s untimely passing had “stunned this very close-knit city.”
Rodriguez recalled how he loved singing and karaoke.
During an editorial meeting with EGP reporters last year, the mayor insisted they watch a video of him performing karaoke before allowing the interview to continue. He went on to say he thought the city could help cover the costs of operating the financially strapped Bell Gardens Golf Club by scheduling karaoke nights there. “I’d be there,” he said.
Crespo addressed nearly everyone by just their last name, several people recalled. “He’d always call me Cruz, ‘hey Cruz, how’s it going,'” said Carlos Cruz, former executive director of the Bell Gardens Chamber of Commerce.
In a joint statement Tuesday, Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), called Crespo “a respected public servant who dedicated his life to protecting and helping others in Southeast Los Angeles and throughout the region.”
Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) said she was “saddened by the shocking and tragic news.”
The case has generated a great deal of speculation as to why the couple had been fighting, everything from infidelity to some sources claiming Lyvette had suffered years of domestic abuse.
Lyvette Crespo’s attorney’s claims have some questioning what they believed they knew about the family.
Bell Gardens Chamber Director Mike Salazar called the incident “very tragic” but cautioned the community to wait for all the facts to come in before rushing to judgment.
“Anything like this can happen anywhere, domestic violence is an issue that has been coming up more often,” he said.
“Everybody knows at this point that tomorrow is not promised,” he added. “What we have to do is bind together as a community and move forward,” Salazar said.
Bayona declined to answer questions from reporters or discuss specifics about his allegations of longtime domestic violence in the Crespo household. He said the shooting “is indeed a tragedy, and I hope that people understand that everyone in this situation is a victim — Lyvette Crespo, Daniel Jr. They are forever scarred, as domestic violence knows no barriers to class or culture.”
Daniel Crespo had been a deputy probation officer for Los Angeles County for more than 20 years, according to county CEO Bill Fujioka.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Crespo had a degree in psychology and family counseling from East Los Angeles College and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and public administration from Cal State Los Angeles. He was working on a master’s degree in public administration, according to his online biography.
EGP Staff writer Nancy Martinez contributed to this story.
Information from City News Service used in this report.
10:o4pm: Updated to include more details about slain mayor’s tenure in Bell Gardens.
7:30pm: Updated to include William Crespo disputing attorney’s allegations.
3:07pm:Updated to include qllegations of domestic abuse by Lyvette Crespo attorney added.
11:45am: Spelling corrected for name of Lyvette Crespo.