East Edition Lead Story

Whittier police officer killed in gun battle

WHITTIER — The city is mourning the death of a police officer who was shot and killed Feb. 20 while responding to a traffic accident and Mar Vista Street and Colima Road.

Officer Keith Wayne Boyer, 53, was shot and killed by a reputed gang member with a lengthy rap sheet at about 8 a.m. Monday. 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 three-year veteran Patrick Hazell, was injured in the shooting, but had stable vital signs.

The 26-year-old alleged gunman, identified by sheriff’s officials as Michael Christopher Mejia of East Los Angeles, was wounded in the shootout and was hospitalized at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center in an intensive care unit.

“It looks like he’s gonna live,” sheriff’s homicide Lt. John Corina told reporters.

Keith Boyer
Keith Boyer

Boyer is the first Whittier officer killed in the line of duty in 37 years and only the third officer in the history of the department.

A memorial of flowers and balloons continued to grow outside the Whittier Police Station on Penn Street.

Corina said witnesses identified the shooter as possibly the gunman involved in a murder earlier Feb. 20 involving a stolen car the gunman ultimately crashed in Whittier. That homicide and car theft occurred about 5:30 a.m. at a home in the City Terrace area of East Los Angeles, 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 Mejia, 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.

Mejia had been released from county jail about two weeks ago. The gun used in the shooting 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 gun battle fighting for their lives,” Sheriff Jim McDonnell told reporters hours after the shooting.

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 added. “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 released from Pelican Bay State Prison on April 19, 2016, and under the legislation known as AB 109, he was placed under the supervision of the Los Angeles County Probation Department instead of state parole officials, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

Mejia reported to the probation department on April 20, 2016, sheriff’s officials said.

He was arrested last summer for violating the terms of his probation and spent 10 days in jail. He was arrested again in September and 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.

In the aftermath of Boyer’s shooting, Piper spoke out against legislation such as AB 109 and other measures that have reduced sentences for some offenders and made others eligible for early release. Piper suggested that Mejia shouldn’t have been on the streets.

“We need to wake up,” Piper said during the emotional 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.”

Piper’s concerns were echoed by McDonnell who spoke about the passage of new laws that put convicted criminals back on the streets without proper treatment.

“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.”

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. March 3 at Calvary Chapel Downey, 12808 Woodruff Ave., according to Whittier police.

Following the service, a procession will carry Boyer’s body to Rose Hills Memorial Park, 3888 Workman Mill Road, Whittier, for a graveside service.

A public memorial viewing will be held at 6:30 p.m. March 2 at Whittier Area Community Church, 8100 Colima Road.

The Whittier Police Officers Association announced Feb. 22 the creation of a fund for people to make donations on behalf of Boyer and his family.

Donations to the WPOA Benevolent Fund can be made in person at the Whittier branch of the Credit Union of Southern California, 8028 Greenleaf Ave. Checks should be made out to WPOA Benevolent Fund and reference account number 488879.

Checks can also be mailed to Credit Union of Southern California, WPOA Benevolent Fund, P.O. Box 200, Whittier, 90608, Attn: David Valencia.