Family Questions Police Shooting of 16-Year Old Son

By Jacqeline Garcia, EGP Staff Writer

Jose Mendez had his problems, admits the 16-year-old’s mother, Josefina Rizo.

He was in and out of trouble and a habitual runaway, but he didn’t deserve being shot and killed by police, she said.

At a protest rally last Friday in front of the Los Angeles Police Department Hollenbeck Station, Rizo said police have not sufficiently explained why officers shot her son to death on Feb. 6. She told EGP she could not understand why she hadn’t been allowed to see her son’s body.

Lea este artículo en Español: Familia de Joven Muerto por la Policía de Los Ángeles Pide Justicia

According to the Los Angeles Police Dept. (LAPD), Mendez was driving a stolen vehicle when stopped at about 10:45pm on Feb. 6. Police said Mendez pulled into a residential driveway on 6th Street, west of Lorena Avenue, and that’s when he exited the vehicle and pointed a sawed-off shotgun at one of the officers.

Both officers immediately fired several rounds, fatally striking the suspect.

A loaded, 20-gauge shotgun with an illegally modified shortened barrel and altered stock was recovered at the scene, according to police.

“They should’ve hit him in a foot or an arm and then arrested him,” Rizo told EGP. “But I really don’t know what the police’s motive was for killing him,” she said.

Rizo, speaking in Spanish, told EGP it took authorities 12 hours to notify her of Jose’s death. One of Jose’s brothers broke the news over the phone to their father, Juan Mendez, who was working at the time.

The couple went to the Hollenbeck Police Station to get more information, she explained, but were only told the case is under investigation.

Josefina Rizo (left) and Juan Mendez (rigt) in front of the LAPD Hollenbeck Station demanding justice for their son. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Josefina Rizo (left) and Juan Mendez (rigt) in front of the LAPD Hollenbeck Station demanding justice for their son. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Rizo told EGP her son started running away from home at an early age: She’d call police, they’d bring him back and he would run away again, Rizo said. Jose dropped out of Roosevelt High School and started hanging out with gangs, and last month he was remanded by the Court to the Rancho San Antonio Boys Home, a center specializing in rehabilitating boys with behavioral, mental and addiction problems.

About a week before he was killed, however, Jose ran away from the Center and was hiding from authorities. His mother said he never went home, but she knew he was around the neighborhood.

Why he was on the run again is not clear.

Community activists and family members who joined in last week’s protest rally say Jose’s shooting illustrates LAPD’s lack of transparency in these types of cases. An attorney looking into the case said they will review video from cameras in the area to try to get more information on what went down that day.

Wearing t-shirts with Jose’s picture, protesters said they are tired of the spike in violence they see in their Boyle Heights neighborhood – both from gangs and the police.

“What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” chanted protestors as they called for greater transparency in the case.

“We want to prevent the deaths of more young kids like my son,” Jose’s father said in Spanish.

Elizabeth Salas and Oscar Hernandez said they were close friends of Jose and devastated by the news of his death. On the verge of tears, they told EGP they were taking part in the protest to support his family, but also because shootings have become too routine in their neighborhoodr.

“We are just tired” of the violence, Salas said.

Sol Marquez, one of the protest organizers, said Jose’s case speaks to the lack of transparency for a lot of cases involving young people in the community.

“First they said it was an adult and then slowly they were changing the story, saying it was a teenager who got shot multiple times,” she said. “It is unacceptable and we shouldn’t let this happen.”

“If that’s what happened to him, what can we expect for the rest of us?” she demanded.
According to Hollenbeck police Capt. Martin Baeza, the two officers involved the shooting “feared for their lives” when the teen pointed a shotgun at them.

“I doubt very much—and this is just my opinion—that the officers knew his age, they just knew there was a man who was pointing a gun at them,” Baeza said. “The tragedy for me, and for [the] Los Angeles Police Department, is that we have so many young children involved in such a violent lifestyle.”

LAPD Media Relations Lieutenant John Jenal told EGP that the department’s policy is to “shoot to stop the threat” if an armed suspect’s actions makes the officer fear for his or another person’s life.

“It’s not like the movies where you shoot at a suspect’s hand to [make them] drop the weapon,” he said, explaining police officers are trained to shoot for the body mass, otherwise the suspect may get back at them.

“If he had a knife we’d use a taser gun or another method, but with a firearm it’s a different situation,” Jenal said. “We shoot to stop and we immediately request an ambulance” as part of the protocol, he said.

Lt. Elissa Fleak with the Coroner’s Office told EGP the delay in notifying Jose’s parents of his death was due to the length of time it takes to legally identify the body.

Jose was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. and the coroner received a call at 2:05am., she said. “He was identified by fingerprints that we sent to different offices,” such as the DMV, DHS, FBI and several state and government offices.

Fingerprint results came back at around 6 a.m., Fleak said.

Family members cannot identify the bodies at the coroner’s office, only at the mortuary, she added. The circumstances of the case required an autopsy to be performed before his body could be released to a mortuary, which did not occur until Feb. 11.

It could take up to six months to get the results, according to the coroner’s office.

Baeza said gang violence is up in the Hollenbeck jurisdiction and many of the perpetrators are young and unafraid.

“We see kids having guns [who] are not afraid of using them, and this is indicative of what happened [with Jose Mendez],” the captain told EGP.

According to Baeza, the officers in Mendez’ shooting were wearing body cameras and there is a digital in-car video recording of the incident and the information is under review,

Following department protocol, the two officers involved in Jose’s shooting have been taken off active duty until the investigation of the incident is complete, he said. At that time, a decision will made as to whether or not they can return to the field.

Baeza emphasized this is the Division’s first officer-involved shooting in 6-8 months.
The captain said he contacted organizers prior to Friday’s protest and urged them to instead organize a peace march as a response to the violence.

Carlos Montes, a member of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, however, told EGP that a peace march can’t happen if police are unwilling to also accept responsibility, “because violence comes from all ends.”

On Wednesday, Jose Mendez’s was scheduled to be released to the family, who said burial services would be held Feb. 20.

—-

Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

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February 18, 2016  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

2 Responses to “Family Questions Police Shooting of 16-Year Old Son”

  1. Chilser on February 20th, 2016 2:50 pm

    Where were the protesters when Jose could have been saved? Why were ‘t they surrounding his home and loving on him instead of letting him run away to join the gangs? Drive the gangs out of the area if you want to save your children. Be accountable for raising your children. This young man was not much more than a kid, and his family needs to take responsibility so they don’t lose another. …

  2. Bob on July 23rd, 2016 12:39 am

    All im gonna say is 4 times in the face and 6 times in the body? For what? In other articles it says the officers were not sure if he pointed the gun at them or not. And he had expensive jewlery on him. And the first thing the cops do is hand cuff him, drag him to the side walk and search him.
    This Is wrong. If it was some … would have been all over the news. But no one has no regard for a young mexican. Im sure if he did point the gun he would have at least let off 1 shot. This story does not add up. Rip child

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