Suspect in Calif. officer killing had cycled in and out of jail, records show

Capt. Steve Katz identified the suspect in Officer Keith Boyer's killing as Michael C. Mejia, a career criminal with a history of drugs and violence


By Richard Winton
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The gang member accused of killing a Whittier police officer Monday had cycled in and out of jail for repeatedly violating the terms of his release, records show.

Sheriff’s Homicide Capt. Steve Katz on Tuesday identified the suspect as Michael C. Mejia, 26, a career criminal with a history of drugs and violence. Mejia has a “history of control problems,” Katz said.

Downey police officers pay their respects at a makeshift memorial for slain Whittier police officer Keith Boyer on Feb. 21, 2017 in Whittier, Calif. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Downey police officers pay their respects at a makeshift memorial for slain Whittier police officer Keith Boyer on Feb. 21, 2017 in Whittier, Calif. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Mejia is suspected of killing Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer and wounding another officer in a shootout after a crash involving a stolen vehicle.

Court records show that Mejia was sentenced in 2010 to four years in state prison for robbery and was convicted in July 2014 of grand theft auto and attempting to steal a vehicle. He was given another two-year sentence.

Mejia, who was shot by officers in the deadly gunfight that claimed Boyer’s life and left Officer Patrick Hazell wounded, has been arrested and jailed for short stints several times since July. State officials said he was on probation and under supervision of the L.A. County Probation Department.

In July, he violated terms of his release and got 10 days in jail. He was arrested again in September after authorities moved to revoke his community supervision.

He was arrested in January for again violating the terms of his release and sentenced to a combined 40 days in jail. But he was out again after 10 days, records show. Then, Feb. 2 he was arrested by East L.A. sheriff’s deputies for violating his release terms and “flash incarcerated.”

Mejia was sentenced to 10 days and released Feb. 11. On Monday, before his run-in with Whittier police, he allegedly went on a deadly rampage that began at an East L.A. home, where authorities suspect Mejia in the fatal shooting of a man believed to be his 46-year-old cousin, Ray Torres. Mejia then allegedly stole his car.

Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper said Mejia is an example of how statewide efforts to reduce incarceration of certain criminals can have tragic consequences.

“We need to wake up. Enough is enough,” Piper said at an emotional news conference Monday, the day Boyer was killed. “This is a senseless, senseless tragedy that did not need to be.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell pointed to three measures enacted in the last seven years — Propositions 47 and 57 and Assembly Bill 109 — that he said have led to the release of too many criminals without creating a proper safety net of mental health, drug rehabilitation and other services.

“We’re putting people back on the street that aren’t ready to be back on the street,” McDonnell said. He said the county jail system he runs, the largest in the nation, has become a “default state prison.”

Sheriff’s officials have long criticized Proposition 47, which was approved by voters in 2014 and downgraded some drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

They say AB 109 — which moved state prisoners to local lockups — has pushed lower-level offenders out of custody and onto the streets, offering little deterrent against committing new crimes.

Proposition 57, which passed last year, changed California’s “three strikes” rule and made sentencing more flexible, allowing some prisoners who wouldn’t normally have been eligible for early parole to be considered for release.

It was unclear if Mejia’s releases were related to any of the measures.

In Los Angeles County, the jail population has decreased, from 18,500 inmates just before Proposition 47 passed to about 16,500 inmates in November. Narcotics arrests have dropped, with busy police officers deciding that the time needed to process a case is not worth it.

The result, some law enforcement officials say, is that more criminals are now on the streets instead of in jail and are not receiving the drug and mental health treatment the measure had promised. Without the threat of a felony prosecution, they say, defendants are less likely to choose treatment as an alternative to serving time.

But supporters of Proposition 47 dispute the theory that crime increases are connected to the measure. Misdemeanors can still result in sentences of up to a year in jail, and it is up to police officers and prosecutors to enforce those penalties, Michael Romano, a lecturer at Stanford Law School, told the Los Angeles Times in December.

“The idea that Proposition 47 has been responsible for an increase in crime in California over the past year or two is fake news, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

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©2017 Los Angeles Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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