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After LA-area teen's shooting, a community lashes out

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 2/9/2018 Nicole Santa Cruz and Maya Lau
John Weber, older brother of Anthony Weber, climbs on stage yelling at members of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission during an emergency town hall meeting at the New Congregational Missionary Baptist Church on Feb. 7, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. © Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images John Weber, older brother of Anthony Weber, climbs on stage yelling at members of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission during an emergency town hall meeting at the New Congregational Missionary Baptist Church on Feb. 7, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.

LOS ANGELES — The father of a 16-year-old teenager who was shot and killed Sunday by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy stood in front of a packed church seeking answers.

"Where's the gun? Where's the gun?" John Weber asked sheriff's officials as the crowd backed him up with chants and shouts. Sitting at a table with department officials Wednesday evening were members of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, their faces grim. "I know where the bullets are — they're right in my baby's back," Weber yelled.

The death of another young black man accused of possessing a weapon was a cruel blow in this South Los Angeles neighborhood that bears a disproportionate burden of violent crime, and it comes at a time when such encounters are under intense scrutiny nationwide.

Wednesday's emergency meeting, called in the wake of the shooting of Anthony Weber in the Westmont section, was intended to quell the inevitable anger among residents who already have a fractured relationship with law enforcement. But there was little dialogue, and it only seemed to inflame tensions that have long simmered and were stoked when, in the aftermath of the shooting, officials accused neighbors of taking a gun allegedly carried by the dead teenager.

That gun is still missing.

The meeting was cut short after a comment made by a Sheriff's Department homicide captain prompted loud outrage. By Thursday, activists were calling for California's attorney general to mount an independent investigation into the shooting.

At the meeting Wednesday night, people shouted "Stop lying" at the department officials, along with profanities. At one point, Anthony Weber's older brother, also named John Weber, stood to address the panel and asked whether there was a "flaw" in the system and whether the family and community were "due something."

"Absolutely not," replied Capt. Chris Bergner.

The comment immediately drew jeers as community members stood and began chanting. Officials, including Bergner, left out a side door. Community members and family were offended by the response.

In a statement Thursday morning, the Sheriff's Department said Bergner couldn't hear the question being asked because of the noise in the room. He heard, "Don't you think we are doomed?" the department said.

"That is the only reason why he replied 'Absolutely not,' " the statement said. Bergner declined to comment and referred queries to the Sheriff's Department's information bureau.

Xavier Thompson, a pastor and vice chairman of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, said that the department missed an opportunity to "foster better community relations" and that its response to the gaffe was even more troubling.

Thompson, who is leading the commission's ad hoc committee on use of force by deputies, said Anthony Weber's shooting death will be a driving force as the group prepares to issue findings and recommendations to the department.

Kevin "Twin" Orange, 54, who works with youth in the area and was raised in Westmont, said deputies used to know the youth better than they do now, and "watched us grow up." That relationship has since deteriorated, and Orange said more dialogue needs to happen between the community and law enforcement.

"It's going to be ugly before it gets better," he said.

Westmont, an unincorporated slice of land between Los Angeles and Inglewood, is one of the most violent neighborhoods in Los Angeles County, despite a countywide drop in homicides over the past decade. Weber's killing comes a year and a half after that of Carnell Snell Jr., an 18-year-old college student who was shot and killed by a Los Angeles police officer just three blocks away.

Snell was one of five people in the last five years killed by law enforcement within a mile of where Weber died.

Snell's death sparked at least two nights of protests in October 2016. Snell was running away from officers when he drew a handgun from his waistband and began turning toward police, the Los Angeles Police Department said. An officer fired six rounds at him, police said at the time.

In response to the community outcry, the department released surveillance footage that appeared to show Snell carrying a firearm just before he was killed. The L.A. Police Commission cleared Officer Leovardo Guillen in the shooting, but the district attorney's office is still reviewing the case.

In the shooting of Anthony Weber on Sunday at about 8 p.m., two deputies responded to a report of a young man in blue jeans and a black shirt pointing a handgun at a driver in the 1200 block of 107th Street. The caller, according to audio of the dispatch call, said he feared for his life.

While on foot, deputies encountered a 16-year-old boy who matched the description. They spotted a handgun tucked into his pants, according to statements by the Sheriff's Department.

When they ordered him not to move, the teen ignored the deputies' commands and took off running into an apartment complex known as a gang hangout, Bergner has said previously.

After entering a courtyard, the young man turned toward the deputies and one of them fired about 10 shots. The teenager was struck "several times" in the upper body, the department said in a statement.

After the shooting, the department said, neighbors immediately flooded the courtyard and the two deputies called for additional help to control the crowd as it swelled to 30 or 40 people. Deputies believe the gun went missing during the commotion, Bergner has said. The department is hoping to speak with more witnesses as it continues the investigation.

On Thursday, Margarita Ortega, 23, stood in the courtyard of the apartment complex and told the teenager's father what she saw that night.

"I don't know why they are saying there was like 40 people out here when there wasn't," she said. "Everybody was so terrified they stayed inside their house."

John Weber, Anthony's father, listened to Ortega with tears in his eyes. He described his son as a father to an infant daughter and said the teen had recently started attending a charter school in the area. In his hand, he carried his son's ROTC uniform.

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