Death penalty for Michael Mejia who shot cop and cousin dead dropped by LA District Attorney George Gascon

The decision left the police department as well the families of the victims deeply disappointed as Mejia reportedly showed little remorse over his act


                            Death penalty for Michael Mejia who shot cop and cousin dead dropped by LA District Attorney George Gascon
George Gascón dropped the death penalty for Michael Mejia (Shawn Calhoun/Wikimedia Commons)

Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón recently said that he will not seek the death penalty for a gang member who killed a police officer and his own cousin. Michael Christopher Mejia, 30, shot at cops Keith Boyer and Patrick Hazell when they responded to a traffic collision report involving Mejia. He shot the two cops while fleeing the scene and while Boyer died in the firing, Hazell survived a shot in the abdomen. Mejia, too, was injured as he was hit on the back. The incident happened on February 20, 2017.

Mejia is also accused of killing Roy Torres, his 47-year-old kin in East Los Angeles, a day prior to the shootout with the cops in Whittier. Last Thursday, February 18, facing objection from two prosecutors assigned to the case, the LA County District Attorney’s Office dropped its bid to seek the death penalty for Mejia, an admitted gang member who was arrested soon after the twin crimes. Family members of both Boyer and Torres were present at the hearing. 

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The two prosecutors in the case told the judge at a pretrial hearing that they were against the decision but yet it prevailed. “Over the objection of Mr. (Geoff) Lewin and I and despite our attempts to prevent this from happening, we've been ordered to remove the death penalty as punishment consideration in this case,” Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron was quoted by FOX LA as saying during the hearing on the case at the Norwalk courthouse.

In 2018, prosecutors had announced that they would seek the death penalty against Mejia but after Gascón was sworn into office in December last year, the reversal came. The 66-year-old Democrat, who said he had a “mandate from the public”, vowed that the office would not pursue death penalty any longer. 

Victims' kin blast decision to drop death penalty

The decision to drop the death penalty did not go down well with the victims’ kin. Whittier Police Chief Aviv Brar and members of the two victims’ family spoke at the hearing with Brar, urging that all applicable charges and penalties remain in place. He said Boyer’s death has been “devastating” for the police department. Boyer’s son Josh said the death of his father marked “the worst day” of his life and they wanted “some justice”.

Don Clark, Boyer’s stepfather, said the reversal was “a punch in the gut”. Speaking emotionally to ‘Fox & Friends’ host Jedediah Bila last Saturday, February 20, he said: “People don’t realize how hard it is on the families.” He slammed Gascón saying what he did to the family of the two victims and others was “absolutely horrendous”. Tiffany Garcia, one of Torres’s kin, said it was not justice. 

Mejia initially claimed during a taped interview with the police that he did not remember the killings because he was “high on drugs” but later admitted to them, saying “all three of them had it coming", FOX LA cited reports as saying. He also said that Hazell was lucky that he survived his shot. “They just got a taste of an LA gang member, real LA gang member,” Mejia said, adding: “You know what I mean?” He also reportedly showed little remorse over his act saying he didn’t feel sorry because according to him, if he was at the receiving end, the cops wouldn’t have felt sorry for his family either. 

Mejia's case has put California criminal justice reform under scrutiny

Mejia has also brought the question back on California’s criminal justice reform initiative. According to KFDM report that came out in the wake of Mejia’s acts: “A California criminal justice reform initiative played no role in the length of the prison sentence of a gang member who is accused of shooting two police officers, one of whom died.”

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the state’s criminal justice reform initiatives did not affect the length of Mejia’s stay in the prison. Former Whittier police chief Jeff Piper and Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell had said about statewide criminal justice initiatives implemented over the recent years saying they resulted in the release of too many criminals. 

The Marshall Project, in a report from May 2018, cited findings by confidential Los Angeles County reports that “concluded that Mejia was allowed to cycle in and out of jail with little punishment or treatment for his escalating drug problems because county agencies failed to document all of his rule-breaking, didn’t share important information with each other and gave him an excessive number of chances while he continued breaking the rules of his supervision”.

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