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Crime & Justice

LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn calls for investigation following death of Whittier police officer




4th district Supervisor candidate Janice Hahn speaks Tuesday evening at her campaign's election watch party. Hahn was speaking on behalf of Isadore Hall, whose watch party was held in the room next door at Port O' Call in San Pedro.
4th district Supervisor candidate Janice Hahn speaks Tuesday evening at her campaign's election watch party. Hahn was speaking on behalf of Isadore Hall, whose watch party was held in the room next door at Port O' Call in San Pedro.
Stuart Palley for KPCC

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Whittier police officer Keith Wayne Boyer died Monday morning after he and his partner were on what appeared to be a routine traffic stop.  Suddenly, that routine stop erupted into gunfire.

The gunman has been identified as Michael Christopher Mejia. The LA Sheriff's Department says he is a known gang member. Mejia had been recently released on parole. 

Now, some are asking if there was some way to prevent what happened.  

LA County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger passed a motion yesterday calling for an investigation into the gunman's criminal history and parole. 

Supervisor Hahn spoke with Take Two's A Martinez about what she hopes to determine through the investigation and addressed concerns over recent revisions to California's justice system. 

Taking a deeper look

At the end of the day, we had two people who were killed. One of which was long-time Whittier police officer Keith Boyer. So, I have the community of Whittier as well as the whole law enforcement family wanting some answers. Was there a failure in the system? Were there things that we could have done better as it relates to policy and procedure? Was he in jail long enough? Should he have been on probation? He was in and out of jail a lot but on the surface, there was nothing in his background that was of a violent crime nature. But we need to look deeper into this and see what went wrong to have again, two people killed within an hour of each other.

The aim of the investigation

I think we're going to look at all policies and procedures. I think we got to look at the courts. I think we have to look at judges. As far as I Can tell right now, the Probation Department was really recommending that this guy be in residential drug treatment. That was never ordered by the court. They just let him out and put him in community supervision. So, I think we're looking at probation, we're looking at courts. I think a lot of people want to know if he was part of the early release of prisoners that we had in California under [AB] 109. Whether or not Prop 47 had anything to do with it which would have made his possession of meth a felony and not a misdemeanor which is what happened to him. So, we want answers. My community wants answers. The law enforcement agencies want answers. And the family of this fallen police officer certainly deserves to get some answers. 

A timeline for answers

We're asking our CEO as well as our county counsel to give us a report back. I'm not sure what the timeline was that we gave them but we want a report back long-term to see whether or not there are some recommended procedures or changes we all might look at and put into effect. 

Reactions from LA County Probation Department 

I know our Chief Probation Officer in LA County is certainly taking a good, hard look at it. I think everybody has to feel badly that we have two people who are dead this week by someone who was in our probation system. I think ever body wants to look at whether there were places along the way that we could have done things differently. There's not anybody that knows the story, particularly the death of Keith Boyer, that doesn't feel like they want to see whether or not there were any failures. 

Daily danger for law enforcement 

Officer Boyer and his partner were responding to a traffic accident. That happens all the time. And they were completely unaware that the suspect would have opened fire on them. They were just unprepared for something like that to happen. Our law enforcement officers– every day, they're in danger. Our public is in danger all the time by some of these hardcore criminals. At the end of the day, what I want to find out is, are there any risk factors that we can identify? Are there any recommendations that will insure that we can do a better job at protecting our public and certainly protecting our officers who every day try to protect us. 

Determining the impact of changes in the justice system

 I know for a fact that all law enforcement agencies throughout the county of Los Angeles do point to [AB] 109 as a cause for concern, particularly because when you have early release of prisoners into our communities, what did not come to our local communities was any extra resources to help with reentry, any mental health services, any more money for drug treatment programs. So, I think they're feeling like a lot of these prisoners are getting released earlier, coming into our communities.  And law enforcement as well as society has not been given the resources to prepare and help let these folks transform into our society. Whether or not this suspect was part of the early release program– that's something we're also looking at in this investigation.  

Quotes edited for clarity 

To listen to the interview, click on the blue Media Player above.