Crime & Justice

FBI refuses to say why an agent killed a Compton man

Mona Martinez (left) holds a photo of her son David Coborubio, who was fatally shot by an FBI agent in August.
Mona Martinez (left) holds a photo of her son David Coborubio, who was fatally shot by an FBI agent in August.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

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It’s been nearly three weeks since an FBI agent fatally shot 31-year-old David Coborubio during a nighttime raid on the house in Compton where he lived.  Yet the agency has yet to explain why agents had to use deadly force against Coborubio, who was not the target of the raid.

The agency has only said there was a “confrontation” between Coborubio and an agent. A spokeswoman said a gun was found at the scene but hasn't connected it to the shooting. She said releasing any more information could compromise the integrity of an investigation by the Department of Justice.

“In order for them to remain completely impartial in their investigation, we are advised to strictly limit comment,” said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

The FBI was at the house serving a search warrant on Paul White, a parolee on the lam who often hung out at the house with Coborubio. White was arrested that night and has since been sentenced to 180 days in jail for failing to show up to parole meetings and tampering with his GPS monitor.

Jaime Segall-Gutierrez, an attorney for Coborubio's family said White and Coborubio were playing video games in the detached garage when FBI vehicles came into the driveway. White hid behind a couch while Coborubio ran to the backdoor of the family home and was shot in the chest.

The FBI has not confirmed that account. 

The FBI’s refusal to provide even a barebones explanation of the shooting runs counter to the growing calls for more transparency in policing and less use of force – calls that have come from its own Department of Justice. Other law enforcement agencies routinely explain why an officer fired his weapon at someone, with the caveat that the initial explanation could change after further investigation.

For example, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, in July, said one of its deputies killed a man he believed to be an armed carjacker. The man allegedly ran toward deputies. Two weeks later, the agency reversed itself, saying the man had nothing to do with the carjacking and was unarmed.

When Coborubio was shot around 9:15 p.m. on August 25, the FBI did not put out a press release until the following afternoon. A few reporters got wind of the shooting and called in the morning, but the FBI initially refused to provide an address, citing privacy concerns for residents.

By the time reporters got to the scene, the FBI was gone. There was no body on the ground, no armored personnel carriers used in the raid, no flashing lights or yellow tape.

Contrast that with the Sheriff’s Department, which usually notifies the news media of a deputy-involved shooting within an hour.

It’s unclear how long the FBI investigation into Coborubio's death will take, but a typical LAPD inquiry takes about ten months.

“Once we complete our investigation, we will provide all of that information to the appropriate prosecutor for a prosecutorial determination,” said Eimiller.

The FBI is notoriously secret, said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. The agency is also less accountable to communities than local police.

“It reflects the fact that they are not politically accountable at the local level,” he said. “So they don’t feel that pressure.”

Coborubio’s mother Mona Martinez told KPCC it’s agonizing to be without her son, and have no explanation for why he was shot. 

“They just don’t realize what they did to my family,” Martinez said.

She said her son took care of her other son, who has schizophrenia.

“He’s afraid to sleep in his room," she said. "He said that the police are going to come back and kill him.”

Martinez has taken a 30 day unpaid leave from work. She has a hard time eating and sleeping.

“I’m still waiting for him to come home.”