Lead Story West Edition

‘Where’s the gun?’ hangs over South L.A. shooting probe

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — “Where’s the gun?”

That’s the question hanging over the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department following the Feb. 4 shooting of 16-year-old Anthony Weber, who was gunned down by sheriff’s deputies in a Westmont apartment complex.

It’s been the question that the department has been trying to answer over the past 11 days, and it is the inquiry that has led to citywide outrage within communities of color and among local activists.

Weber was shot in the upper body 10 times. Reports filed by deputies say he was armed at the time he was shot and the department publicly blamed one or more of the alleged 30 to 40 people who “rushed” the scene shortly after the shooting for “taking the weapon.”

Neither the gun, nor the alleged person who took the gun, have been found, leading skeptics of the Sheriff’s Department to consider two more questions: “Was there a gun?” and “What was the motive for killing Weber?”

Activists posed the initial question Feb. 7 at a meeting of the Sheriff’s Department Civilian Oversight Commission that didn’t end well for the Sheriff’s Department and its efforts to assuage the community following the shooting.

A room filled with residents at New Congressional Missionary Baptist Church had the dialogue cut short after sheriff’s Capt. Chris Bergner left the meeting after telling Weber’s family members they were owed “Absolutely not.” Bergner later said he misheard the question that drew his response.

Community activist Najee Ali, who has been serving as the spokesperson for the Weber family, called for another meeting with Sheriff’s Department officials that took place Feb. 13. Ali attended the meeting to file a complaint calling for the Sheriff’s Department’s inspector general to take a deeper review of the case.

Ali issued a statement prior to that meeting. It said: “Anthony Weber, a 16-year-old African-American youth, was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies. They say he had a gun. No gun was ever found.

“On behalf of the Weber family, we have filed a formal complaint against the deputies responsible for killing Weber. The Weber family and many community residents believe these deputies are lying to cover up a bad and unjust shooting of Weber.”

Ali continued: “The deputies can’t find a gun because Weber never had one. The Inspector General must investigate what we believe is a cover up by the deputies involved.”

Ali also mentioned former Sheriff Lee Baca, who is due to begin serving a three-year prison sentence for lying to federal investigators in a corruption probe.

“If Baca, who was the former leader of this department, had no problem lying to investigators, the deputies are capable as well,” Ali said.

The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable also weighed in on the investigation of Weber’s death, calling on the county coroner and the Sheriff’s Department to immediately make public the autopsy report on Weber.

“The fact that Weber did not have a gun casts serious doubt on the report by the Sheriff’s Department on Weber’s killing,” roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson said.

“The autopsy will confirm where and how Weber was shot. This will also help determine whether the deputies’ statement about the killing is factual or not. In any case, the family has a right to know the exact truth about the killing.”

Weber’s mother, Demetra Johnson, is still mourning the death of her son and has planned funeral services that will take place Feb. 24.

The Sheriff’s Department has not provided any financial aid to assist with the burial.

“Everyone that I have spoken to including eyewitnesses to my son’s killing have all said the same thing. A.J was unarmed,” Johnson said.

“The leadership of the sheriff’s engaged in an immediate smear and slander campaign to portray my son in a false and negative light to justify the killing of another unarmed black youth. But our family is determined to fight for justice.

“They will never find a gun because he never had one.”