The parents of a 16-year-old African-American teenager fatally shot by Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies who said he had a gun filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against L.A. County Wednesday, alleging deputies used excessive force and violated the boy’s civil rights.
The sheriff's department hinted that it has "undeniable" evidence exonerating the deputies, but said it "must stay silent" for now to protect the ongoing investigation into the killing of Anthony Weber.
The Super Bowl day shooting of Weber in February sparked angry protests because no gun was ever found. Sheriff’s investigators have theorized that someone grabbed the weapon as the teenager lay in the courtyard of an apartment complex in the Westmont area of South L.A.
"That’s strictly a fabrication to try to justify the shooting," said attorney Gregory Yates, who represents Weber's parents. They hope the lawsuit will "expose the code of silence" in the case, he said.
Holding back tears as she stood outside a downtown federal courthouse, Weber’s mother Demetra Johnson said she's still in disbelief that her son was killed by law enforcement.
"We have a lot of issues in our area but this was the last thing I ever thought would happen to my child," she said. The Westmont area is known for gang violence.
The deputies who patrol her neighborhood need to change their ways, Johnson said. "They have to learn how to communicate and respond to the young men of this community."
The sheriff’s department issued a strongly-worded statement in response to the lawsuit that said "there is a growing body of evidence in this case that is undeniable, and yet, to protect the integrity of the investigation, to continue to maintain open channels of communication for more potential witnesses to come forward, we must stay silent."
"The day will come when the evidence will speak for us," the statement said.
A spokeswoman would not elaborate.
The statement went on: "We have watched as individuals hurl allegations or immediately assume that deputy involved shootings and the aftermath are signs of police misconduct."
Sheriff’s officials have said deputies were responding to a 911 call that a man was in the street on West 107th pointing a gun at a driver around 8pm. They found Weber with a gun tucked in his pants, according to the department.
Deputies chased him a short distance into a nearby apartment complex, where the shooting occurred, said sheriff’s officials.
"While waiting for additional deputies and trying to control the situation, it is believed that someone may have been able to gain possession of the gun and take it," a sheriff's department statement released at the time said.
The shooting prompted Sheriff Jim McDonnell to hold a news conference the next day to try to calm the community.
The sheriff has prohibited the coroner from releasing the autopsy on Weber and refused to release the names of the deputies involved, citing concerns for the integrity of the investigation and the deputies' safety.
At the news conference, Weber’s father John Weber said he had turned over his son’s body at the mortuary and found nine bullet holes in his back.
Weber played with his son’s daughter Violet as the mother spoke.
The birth of Violet less than a year ago "completely changed" her son, Demetra Johnson said.
"He demonstrated the maturity and lovingness that most grown men don’t show as a dad," she said.
"Anthony had dreams for the future," Johnson said. He wanted to make something of his life and be there to see his daughter grow up. But that won’t happen now."