Keith Boyer, 53
Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer, a 53-year-old white man, was shot and killed on Monday, Feb. 20, at the intersection of Colima Road and Mar Vista Street in Whittier, according to authorities.
Boyer and two other officers were called to the scene to investigate a traffic collision about 8 a.m. when one of the drivers in the accident pulled out a gun and began shooting, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. John Corina told The Times.
The officers returned fire and three people were struck, including Christopher Michael Mejia, 26, a felon investigators would later learn was a suspect in the fatal shooting of his cousin earlier that morning in East Los Angeles.
Both Mejia and Patrick Hazell, a Whittier officer with three years on the force, were injured and taken to the hospital with injuries they are expected to survive.
Boyer, a 27-year veteran of the department who was considering retirement, was taken to UC Irvine Medical Center where he was pronounced dead later that morning, according to Corina.
“He was the best of the best,” Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper said during an emotional news conference later that morning. He broke down in tears as he described Boyer as a close friend and beloved mentor in the department.
Boyer was the father of two sons and an accomplished drummer who regularly played with a class-rock tribute band from Temecula, called Mrs. Jones' Revenge, The Times reported.
Band leader Jeff McNeal said he initially had reservations about asking Boyer to join the band, fearing that “as a cop, he’s probably a Type A personality and he’s gonna want to be in control, but I was totally wrong about that.”
Boyer’s technical skill as a drummer “elevated” the band, McNeal told The Times. “He was extremely enthusiastic and very supportive, probably the easiest guy in the whole band. Always willing to play. He loved the music. It was his passion.”
The morning of the shooting, Boyer and the other officers believed they were responding to a routine traffic call and did not know one of the vehicles was stolen, or its driver was a murder suspect, Corina told The Times.
“It seemed like a simple traffic accident and the next thing they know they’re in a gunfight,” Corina said, “You never know when you respond to a call what you are going to run into.”
Investigators believe Mejia shot his cousin, Roy Roger Torres, 47, sometime earlier that morning, in the garage where Torres lived outside his elderly parents’ home in the 1400 block of Volney Street in East Los Angeles, said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bill Cotter.
Torres was pronounced dead at the scene at 5:29 a.m. and his car, a Dodge sedan, was missing. Mejia was driving the stolen car when he rear-ended another car at the corner of Colima Road and Mar Vista Street later that morning, shortly before 8 a.m. about 20 miles east and south of where his cousin died.
Mejia, an imposing, 6-foot, 3-inch man with tattoos advertising his gang affiliation on his face and neck, asked the driver of the other car to push his silver sedan to the side of the road, The Times reported.
When the officers arrived, Mejia was sitting in his car, according to Corina. When he got out, he allegedly pulled a gun from the waistband of his pants and began shooting at close range.
Mejia is a felon who spent three years in prison for robbery and then another two years for stealing a family member’s car, The Times reported. Since his release from prison in April of 2016, Mejia has been jailed at least four times for probation violations, including methamphetamine possession and running from deputies, Corina told The Times.
His grandfather, Lino Mejia, told The Times that Mejia has struggled with meth addiction, and appeared to be using drugs again shortly before the shooting. He said he reported his grandson’s drug abuse several times to his probation officer, most recently on Feb. 15, but he still felt responsible for Boyer's death.
"I feel like it was our fault," he said. "Maybe we spoiled him."
Lino Mejia said his grandson had been staying with him in his East Los Angeles home since he was most recently released from jail on Feb, 11, The Times reported. The grandfather and Torres’ family live a few miles apart in East LA, Cotter said.
Whittier Chief Piper blamed recent reforms in the state’s criminal justice laws for setting Mejia free. Prison officials disputed that claim, saying Mejia’s sentences were not shortened by those reforms, The Times reported.
But Piper and other law enforcement leaders were not persuaded, saying too many criminals are being released without a proper safety net of mental health, drug rehabilitation and other services, The Times reported. “We need to wake up. Enough is enough,” Piper said during his news conference. “This is a senseless, senseless tragedy that did not need to be.”
Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau, which is investigating the shooting, at (323) 890-5500. Those wishing to remain anonymous should call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.
Photo: People visit a memorial for slain Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer in front of the police station to pay their respects. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times