Federal prosecutors have charged four people with the robbery and murder of an off-duty Los Angeles police officer and allege the suspects have links to a street gang, authorities said Thursday.
Agent Fernando Arroyos, 27, was fatally shot at about 9:15 p.m. Monday in an unrecorded area of southern Los Angeles County. According to authorities, the suspects had aimed it at him because of two silver chains or necklaces around his neck.
According to authorities, Arroyos was shopping for a house with his girlfriend when a pickup truck approached. Several suspects got out, an argument ensued and shots were fired between the attackers and the officer. Arroyos was shot once; his girlfriend was not injured.
The US Attorney General in Los Angeles announced the charges on Thursday. The sheriff was investigating the case and took the suspects into custody on Wednesday, as the crime took place in an unregistered part of the county.
The suspects are charged with violent crimes for extortion; they are said to have ties to the Florencia 13 (F13) gang. The crimes were allegedly committed to promote the gang, authorities said.
The violence took place on the gang’s territory, authorities said.
The suspects are alleged gang members Luis Alfredo De La Rosa Rios, 29, known as “Lil J”; Ernesto Cisneros, 22, known as “Gonzo” and Jesse Contreras, 34, known as “Skinny Jack” and “Flaco.” Rios’ girlfriend, 18-year-old Haylee Marie Grisham, is believed to be an associate of the gang.
Another LAPD officer identified Contreras on surveillance video because the officer encountered him and Rios in the truck during a traffic stop on Sunday, authorities said.
The suspects are expected to appear in federal court for the first time Friday afternoon. It was not immediately clear on Thursday evening whether they had lawyers who could comment on their behalf.
Florencia 13 is a Latino street gang founded in the early 1950s and based in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood of South LA, according to a federal affidavit. The violent group controls the drug trade in the area and is under the control of the Mexican mafia.
Rios, Cisneros and Contreras have reportedly admitted in their interviews with law enforcement officers that they are members of the gang and have tattoos related to it, the affidavit said. Authorities also placed law enforcement officers in prison cells with the suspects to gather more information.
However, Rios is said to have told investigators that the foursome were looking to “make money” that night — to rob people of property or money, according to the affidavit.
Grisham told someone in her prison cell that she allegedly participated in a robbery earlier that day.
At around 9:15 p.m., the group saw Arroyos and his girlfriend, Rios said, and Contreras is said to have told him to “take the necklace” and handed him a gun.
Rios and Cisneros allegedly confronted the couple and pointed the weapons at them, authorities said. They allegedly stole from both items, including a black cane belonging to the officer’s girlfriend, and removed the silver chains — one with a sword pendant — from Arroyos’ neck.
Rios told investigators he saw Cisneros take Arroyos’ wallet, the affidavit says. Cisneros handed Rios the wallet and Rios later took $100 and threw it to the floor.
At one point, a firefight started and Arroyos was hit once. He ran into an alley and collapsed as Rios and Cisneros fled.
Sheriffs’ deputies, responding to a call for help, loaded Arroyos into their cruiser and rushed him to hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
LAPD chief Michel Moore complained in a news conference Thursday night to announce the charges that the robbery and killing were “more than minimal property.”
Still, he added, “I’ll tell you those two necklaces and a wallet, I’m sure, mean the world to the family.”
Rios is said to have admitted to shooting at least once and said he believed Cisneros had also shot Arroyos. A bullet grazed Rios’ rib cage and Cisneros appeared to have broken his leg.
Surveillance video shows the pickup truck stopping at a house near the shooting and Contreras getting out of the truck, authorities said. He is then seen helping an apparently injured Cisneros out of the truck, according to court documents.
All four suspects were in the truck, prosecutors say. The entire group is said to have been at the scene of the robbery and shooting.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva said investigators took the case to Los Angeles County prosecutors, but District Attorney George Gascón had previously promised to stop seeking gang improvements in prosecutions.
Villanueva said at the press conference that the “depravity” behind Arroyos’ murder would carry harsher sentences, so detectives took the matter to federal authorities.
According to federal charges, the suspects could face the death penalty, or the minimum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, because Arroyos was killed during the robbery, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
A loaded gun was found at the scene and allegedly belonged to one of the suspects, but Arroyos’s chains and wallet are still missing.
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