DA will not prosecute deputy who killed Anthony Weber, 16 years old and possibly unarmed
April 14, 2023 | by Keri Blakinger, Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times
Five years after a sheriff’s deputy killed 16-year-old Anthony Weber and four years after the county agreed to pay $3.75 million to settle a suit filed by his grieving family, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has decided not to charge the deputies involved in the incident.
The shooting on Super Bowl Sunday in 2018 sparked weeks of protests and outrage in South Los Angeles, especially as questions arose about what happened and whether the teen really posed a threat.
The Sheriff’s Department claimed the boy was carrying a gun — but investigators never recovered a firearm. Even so, prosecutors said he probably did have a weapon, so the deputy who killed him “acted in lawful self-defense.” They laid out their reasoning in a 50-page memo obtained this week by the Los Angeles Times.
Since investigators were unable to find a weapon at the scene in 2018, officials have theorized it somehow went missing in the crowd that formed after the shooting. Weber’s family, meanwhile, has maintained the boy was unarmed.
“No gun was found at the scene, and that’s because Anthony did not have a gun at the time he was shot,” Gregory Yates, one of the lawyers representing the family in their lawsuit, told The Times in 2018.
In an interview Friday, Yates reiterated that point and called the D.A.’s memo “one-sided” and “basically a whitewash” of events. Attorneys for the deputies could not immediately be reached.
News of the decision comes as the district attorney’s office is facing questions about the current administration’s ability to win convictions against police.
The memo explaining the district attorney’s decision not to prosecute offers a lengthy account of the investigation, summarizing dozens of interviews, recorded phone calls and surreptitiously recorded conversations from inside local lock-ups. It does not include any body-worn camera footage of the shooting, as the Sheriff’s Department did not outfit patrol deputies with the devices at the time.
On the evening of Feb. 4, 2018, two deputies responded to a 911 call about a teenager in a black shirt and blue jeans who’d allegedly pointed a gun at a motorist in the 1200 block of 107th Street.
Deputies Gregory Van Hoesen and Manuel Escobedo arrived on scene half an hour later, just before 8:15 p.m. When they didn’t see anyone in the area matching that description, they parked on the street and started walking around. They soon found a teen who fit the description, standing outside an apartment complex: 16-year-old Anthony Weber.
When Van Hoesen ordered Weber and the woman next to him to show their hands, they both obeyed. According to the memo, Van Hoesen said he spotted a gun tucked in Weber’s waistband when the boy raised his hands.
“If you move, I’ll shoot you,” he warned.
The boy turned and fled, with his hands still in the air.
As the district attorney’s office described it, his decision to flee “transformed the situation from one of control and opportunity to surrender peacefully, to one of great peril and uncertainty.”
Van Hoesen started after the teen with Escobedo following 15 feet behind. As Weber rounded a corner and ran through a courtyard, he allegedly looked back and moved his right hand toward his waistband. “Terrified” that the teen was reaching for a gun, Van Hoesen began shooting. The deputy fired 13 rounds. Weber fell forward on the ground, and Van Hoesen drew near, shouting, “Let me see your hands!”
Weber stretched out his hands to either side, at which point, by Van Hoesen’s account, he could see the boy was unarmed. Escobedo never fired his weapon, and said he heard the gunshots before he rounded the corner but did not see the shooting. According to the corner’s report, Weber died at the scene.
Afterward, Van Hoesen called for backup. As he waited, people began to come out of their apartments. A woman screamed. Some yelled, “F— the police!” Van Hoesen spotted Escobedo pointing his gun at some of the angry residents, yelling at them to get back.
More than a dozen officers and deputies from the Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Gardena Police Department and Hawthorne Police Department gathered at the scene. Some reported overhearing the onlookers curse at the police and say they’d shot the boy for no reason.
According to the memo, when officers started canvassing the neighborhood, they couldn’t find anyone who’d seen the shooting, though some heard it. One resident reported hearing a burst of four gunshots, followed by a pause and then six more shots.
When investigators interviewed Weber’s family, his father said the boy didn’t have a gun.
“I know he didn’t have it on him when he got shot, and I know he didn’t throw it,” his father told investigators, according to the memo.
Several days after the shooting, someone identifying themselves as the anonymous 911 caller who first summoned police to the area contacted investigators, saying that he’d seen news reports indicating the deputies never found a gun and wanted to clarify what happened.
He said hadn’t known Weber before that night but encountered the boy as he was driving on West 107th. By his account, Weber walked out of the nearby apartment complex and into the street, where he allegedly pointed a pistol at the driver’s head. The driver accelerated, fled and called 911. Fifteen minutes later, the caller said he heard gunshots — which turned out to be the sound of the deputy shooting Weber. When the story made local news, the caller said he realized Weber was the person who’d pointed a gun at him.
In early March, deputies searching a different apartment for an unrelated case found several guns, including one they said matched the description of the distinctive weapon Van Hoesen said he saw in Weber’s waistband.
“The accuracy of Van Hoesen’s detailed description of the unique features of the handgun — which would be borne out several weeks later when the firearm was recovered at the residence of [name redacted] — and his high level of confidence in his description of the gun before it was ultimately recovered, also corroborate the presence of the gun during the contact, which in turn bolster the credibility of his account of the shooting,” prosecutors wrote.
But on Friday, Yates questioned how Van Hoesen had ever been able to offer such a detailed description of a gun he’d seen for only a few seconds in the dark, through a hole in a fence. He suggested the description may have come from a gun one of Weber’s friends flashed in a Facebook video that Los Angeles Police Department investigators found online and turned over to the Sheriff’s Department the day after the shooting.
Ultimately, prosecutors decided that Van Hoesen’s account was “reasonable and credible” and that the witnesses whose stories contradicted his were not.
In reaching that conclusion, prosecutors also highlighted forensic analysis that found gunshot residue on Weber’s hands and face, as well as in his front waistband — though they added “it is possible” that residue was “from being shot at multiple times and searched by deputies.”
Even if Weber did not have a gun, prosecutors said it may have been justified for the deputy to kill him if the boy made a “threatening gesture” as he fled.
“Whether Anthony W. intended to shoot and disable Van Hoesen or delay his pursuit by means of a threatening gesture, or toss the handgun, is not relevant,” the memo reads. “If Anthony W. did look back and then immediately reach toward his waistband, it would have been reasonable for Van Hoesen to believe Anthony W. intended to do grievous harm. Under such circumstances, Van Hoesen’s decision to employ lethal force would be justified as a lawful act in self-defense.”
Lawyers for the Weber family have previously described the size of the settlement reached in 2019 as “an implicit acknowledgment that this was a bad shooting.”
Though the D.A.’s memo mentioned a lawsuit that was eventually dismissed, it made no mention of the hefty settlement.
The year after the shooting, Van Hoesen was involved in the killing of Jamaal Simpson, a 21-year-old who was shot in Hyde Park. His family later sued the county and several deputies in federal court, in a case that is scheduled for trial in the fall.