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Rigoberto Arceo: Shot in the chest by a sheriff's deputy

On the working-class Cudahy street where he lived, Rigoberto “Rigo” Arceo, 34, was a staple; known for his smile and wave each time he passed by.

He took that smile with him to the halls of St. Francis Medical Center, where he worked his way up from a janitor position to biomedical technician.

Late on the night of Saturday, May 11, Arceo arrived at the hospital where he had worked for eight years by ambulance, shot once in the chest by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy.

His coworkers recognized him as “one of our own,” said Brother Richard Hirbe, the director of spiritual care and medical ethics for the hospital.

“The heart of the hospital stopped for a moment,” Hirbe said.

Arceo had been dancing to mariachi music at a Mother’s Day gathering at his home just hours earlier. The neighborhood, dotted with pastel-colored stucco homes and duplexes, was bustling, with grills fired up for carne asada, children playing in front yards and music flowing.

About 8 p.m. Arceo’s younger brother left the party with his girlfriend to go a short distance home. About 30 minutes later, he came back and told Rigo that he had gotten into a fight outside his apartment building, said their sister, Maria Arceo.

Rigo and Maria left the party in a dark blue Toyota minivan and drove to the apartment with the hopes of calming things down. But they quickly gave up, she said. By then, someone had called the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to report a fight involving a man with a gun.

As Rigo and Maria left the scene, deputies were arriving. A deputy followed their van to Walnut Street and Otis Avenue, a few blocks away.

Maria, who was driving, said she noticed a deputy behind her but said she saw no flashing lights.  She and her brother parked three doors away from his house. At that point, Maria said the deputy’s lights flashed and she heard shouts.

The sheriff’s account of what happened next follows: Arceo exited the vehicle, advanced on the deputy and attempted to take the deputy’s gun. The deputy fired a single shot, striking Arceo in the upper torso.

Maria said she saw her brother exit the van and walk toward the rear of the van with his hands up. She heard a gunshot, then saw her brother disappear from the window where she’d been watching.

“His hands were in the air the entire time,” she said.

Deputies then instructed Maria to get out of the car,  she said. She watched as the paramedics removed Arceo’s shirt and attempted to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at 10:46 p.m. after arriving at the hospital, according to coroner’s records.

Sheriff’s deputies found a handgun in the van. Arceo’s father is the registered gunowner, according to the family’s attorney, Luis Carrillo.

Less than a week after Arceo was killed, Armando Garcia, 53, stood in his front yard where he had been barbecuing the night of the shooting. 

Garcia said he watched as the confrontation unfolded, illuminated by a nearby streetlight. He said he will never forget Arceo’s hands falling as his body slumped to the ground.

“It was about five seconds and they shot, and Rigo fell,” Garcia said. “I got really nervous, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

In a statement given to Carrillo, Garcia’s cousin said she was sitting on the front porch and had the same memory of the event. Carrillo has called for a federal inquiry into the incident. As with all deputy-involved shootings, the district attorney, the sheriff’s homicide and internal affairs bureaus and the sheriff’s executive force review committee are investigating the killing.

At St. Francis Medical Center, those who knew Arceo have a hard time understanding what could have gone wrong. Hirbe, who received a call from the hospital at 11:45 p.m. that evening, met Arceo when he started working at the hospital as a janitor. Arceo, he said, had grown into a employee who reached out to co-workers at the hospital as a role model.

“A lot of the younger guys started to emulate him,” Hirbe said. “They knew that he worshipped his family.”

Yoana Munoz, who was set to marry Arceo in August, said her fiance first attracted her with his “big smile and his personality.”

She said that Arceo treasured their two sons, Nathan, 6, and Christopher, 10 and recently begun coaching his oldest son’s basketball league.

At a vigil in May, Munoz sat in folding chairs with Arceo’s family members, her youngest son in her lap. His sister said that since the shooting, the family has camped out at the site where he was shot.

“We don’t want to leave him alone,” she said.

--Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo: Family, friends and neighbors of Rigo Arceo, including his sister, Maria Arceo, second from right, gather for a memorial service on Walnut Street in Cudahy on Friday, May 17. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

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