As emotions continued to run high and a memorial continued to build in honor of slain Whittier police Officer Keith Wayne Boyer, the reputed gang member suspected of killing him was identified Tuesday as a man with a lengthy rap sheet.
Boyer, 53, was killed about 8 a.m. Monday while responding to a traffic crash near Colima Road and Mar Vista Street. The grandfather, school resource officer and drummer in a classic-rock tribute band was a 27-year veteran of the department.
Another officer, identified by Whittier police Chief Jeff Piper as a three-year veteran Patrick Hazell, was injured in the shooting, but had stable vital signs.
U.S. & World
The 26-year-old alleged gunman, identified by sheriff's officials as Michael Christopher Mejia, was wounded in the shootout and was last reported hospitalized in an intensive care unit.
"It looks like he's going to live," sheriff's homicide Lt. John Corina told reporters Monday.
Boyer's body was taken Monday from UCI Medical Center to the Orange County coroner's office in Santa Ana. On Tuesday, his body was taken in a police procession from the coroner's office to Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier in preparation for funeral services, which are expected to be held early next week.
Boyer is the first Whittier officer killed in the line of duty in about 37 years.
Meanwhile, a memorial of flowers and balloons continued to grow outside the Whittier Police Department.
Corina said witnesses identified the shooter as possibly the gunman involved in a murder earlier Monday involving a stolen car the gunman ultimately crashed in Whittier. That homicide and car theft occurred about 5:30 a.m. Monday at a home in the 1400 block of Volney Drive in the East Los Angeles/City Terrace area, according to Deputy Kimberly Alexander of the Sheriff's Information Bureau.
The victim in that shooting was identified as Roy Torres, 49, who was reported to be a cousin of the gunman.
The Whittier shootout began shortly after the suspect rear-ended some motorists near Colima and Mar Vista, disabling the vehicle he was driving, authorities said. He then asked people in the car he struck to help him move the disabled vehicle, according to Corina.
Officers arriving at the scene around 8 a.m. were told by motorists that the suspect was around the corner with the disabled car, Corina said.
When officers approached the suspect, he was sitting in his car. As they asked him to get out of the car and prepared to pat him down for weapons, he pulled out a semi-automatic handgun and began firing at the officers, at least one of whom returned fire, wounding the suspect, Corina said.
The sheriff's lieutenant said the suspect was a resident of Los Angeles, who had been released from custody about two weeks ago. The suspect's gun was recovered at the scene, Corina said.
"Here you have a case where two officers walk up on a vehicle where they believe someone needs medical assistance and they end up in a gunbattle fighting for their lives,'' Sheriff Jim McDonnell told reporters.
Boyer was a divorced father of grown children, a drummer who played in bands for nonprofit events and a "personal friend of mine for 25 years,'' Piper said, adding he had occasionally played guitar with Boyer in that band.
"He was the best of the best," Piper said. "He was humble, smiling, positive. He was a great guy and recently talked to me about retiring."
The impact of this shooting will "last for years. But we're gonna get through it. This makes us stronger. And everyone needs to know what these officers face on a daily basis," Piper said as he broke down in tears.
"We have been grieving since 10 a.m. this morning," Piper said Monday. "I didn't think I had any more tears left to cry but obviously I do."
As Whittier officers mourned Boyer's death, officers from neighboring law enforcement agencies including Los Angeles and South Gate stepped in to patrol Whittier streets.
According to court records reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Mejia was sentenced in 2010 to four years in prison for robbery, then convicted in July 2014 of auto theft and attempted vehicle theft, leading to a two-year sentence.
He was arrested last summer for violating the terms of his probation and spent 10 years in jail. He was arrested again in September and in January. He was ordered to spend 40 days in jail, but was released in 10, The Times reported. He was arrested again Feb. 2 and sentenced to 10 days in jail. He was released Feb. 11.
It was unclear if recent legislation and voter-approved measures that reduced sentences for some offenders, made other convicts eligible for early release and funneled some defendants into county jails instead of state prison played a role in any of Mejia's releases from custody.
Piper suggested Monday that Mejia shouldn't have been on the streets.
"We need to wake up," Piper said during the emotional Monday news conference. "Enough is enough. Passing these propositions, you're creating these laws that is raising crime. It's not good for our communities and it's not good for our officers. What you have today is an example of that. So we need to pull our head out of the sand and start realizing what we're doing to our communities and to our officers who give their life like Officer Boyer did today."
"You have no idea how things have changed in the last four years," Piper added. "People don't want to follow rules, don't care about people."
Piper's concerns were echoed by Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell who spoke about the passage of new laws that put convicted criminals like Monday's shooter out on the street with an early parole.
"AB 109 provides for some early releases. Prop 47 stops people from entering the system and Prop 57 accelerates their release," McDonnell said.
"County jail has become a default state prison," McDonnell said. "But people need to be rehabilitated before they get released on to the streets.
There also needs to be drug treatment and treatment for mental illness first.
Right now, we are putting people on the streets who are not ready to be on the streets."
The state Senate was expected to adjourn Tuesday in honor of Boyer, according to Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis offered prayers for the injured officer and the community.
"The brave men and women of our law enforcement agencies go to work every day knowing that they may find themselves in danger's path, yet they never turn their backs on protecting our community," Solis said. "Los Angeles County stands with the fallen officer and we hope for a speedy recovery of the other injured officer. Our prayers are with the community of Whittier."