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Face-tattooed gang member who murdered LA cop was not released early, officials say

Gang member accused in officer’s slaying was on probation

MICHAEL BALSAMO
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — 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, officials said Tuesday.

Michael Christopher Mejia, 26, was arrested Monday after Whittier police Officer Keith Boyer was fatally shot and Officer Patrick Hazell was wounded as they responded to the site of a traffic accident Mejia was involved in.

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said none of the state’s recent criminal justice reform initiatives affected the length of Mejia’s prison sentence. Still, a local police union and two Los Angeles legislators have called for investigations into the policies surrounding Mejia’s release.

At an emotional news conference on Monday, Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper and Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell pointed to a series of statewide criminal justice initiatives implemented in the past few years that they said have led to the release of too many criminals.

“We need to wake up. Enough is enough,” Piper said. “You’re passing these propositions; you’re creating these laws that are raising crimes. It’s not good for our communities and it’s not good for our officers. What you have today is an example of that.”

Officers salute during a procession for a fallen officer in Orange, Calif., Monday, Feb. 20, 2017. A California police officer was killed and another wounded in a shooting Monday while they were trying to help a man who had been in a traffic accident in Whittier, officials said. (Sam Gangwer/The Orange County Register via AP)

Magnus Lofstrom, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California who has studied the impact of the reform measures, said there was no evidence implementing Assembly Bill 109 led to an increase in violent crime. He said there was a rise in property crimes, mainly caused by a spike in auto theft.

Mejia was sentenced to four years in prison in 2010 on a felony robbery charge, which included an enhancement on his sentence because he was identified as a member of a street gang, and he was released on parole in 2014, according to Callison. While on parole, Mejia was arrested again on grand theft and vehicle theft charges and sentenced to an additional two years in prison.

Authorities said Mejia was released from California’s Pelican State Prison in April and was placed on probation under a reform measure known as Assembly Bill 109 that allowed some convicted felons to serve their sentences in county jails and serve probation instead of being sent to state prisons and paroled. Mejia had been arrested five times since April for violating his probation, most recently on Feb. 2, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Lt. John Corina said.

Under California law, a probationer can be held for up to 10 days for a “flash incarceration” after violating the terms of their probation, though the offenses do not have to constitute a criminal act. Mejia’s latest arrest was for “not cooperating with the search and seizure clause of his probation,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said. He was released on Feb. 11.

 

Anaheim firefighters form a line and salut as the escort for a slain officer drives by in Orange, Calif., Monday, Feb. 20, 2017. A California police officer was killed and another wounded in a shooting Monday while they were trying to help a man who had been in a traffic accident in Whittier, officials said. (Sam Gangwer/The Orange County Register via AP)

Investigators say Mejia, a member of the Los Angeles-based Winter Gardens gang whose face is covered in tattoos, killed his cousin, Roy Torres, 46, earlier Monday in East Los Angeles before stealing Torres’ car. Mejia was driving through Whittier when he rear-ended another vehicle. When Boyer and Hazell arrived at the scene, a driver pointed them to the vehicle that had rear-ended his car. As the officers approached Mejia, police said, he opened fire and the officers shot back.

Mejia remained hospitalized Tuesday after being arrested on a probation violation and couldn’t be reached for comment. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney who could comment on the allegations. A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to questions about when Mejia might face a judge.

Investigators have taken a blood sample from Mejia and are looking into the possibility that he was under the influence of drugs during the shooting, Corina said Tuesday.

Piper and McDonnell also criticized Proposition 57, a reform measure that allows non-violent felons who normally wouldn’t be eligible for parole to be considered for early release. State officials said that initiative has not yet been implemented and officials are still drafting the proposed regulations. Gov. Jerry Brown campaigned strongly for the ballot measure, unveiling a website and creating radio ads for the initiative that he said could help offenders change their lives.

Critics have said the initiatives pushed lower-level offenders onto the streets without sufficient deterrents against committing new crimes.

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Associated Press writer Don Thompson contributed to this report from Sacramento.

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Follow Michael Balsamo on Twitter @MikeBalsamo1.

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