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Criminal Justice

CHP Killing of Unarmed Man in East LA Under State Investigation

Leonel Chavez  looks at the camera with a slight smile on his face and his eyes barely open. He has a full beard and is wearing a blue T-shirt.
Leonel Chavez.
(Courtesy Humberto Guizar)
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The fatal shooting of an unarmed man in East L.A. by the California Highway Patrol on Tuesday is under investigation by the California Department of Justice, according to Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Meanwhile, the family of the man who was killed — 24-year-old Leonel Chavez — plans to file a complaint, according to its lawyer, Humberto Guizar. A complaint is a precursor to a wrongful death lawsuit.

Under a law that took effect July 1, the state DOJ is required to investigate police shootings that result in the death of an unarmed person.

A statement from the CHP acknowledged a fatal shooting occurred around 3:30 p.m. after officers responded to a non-injury traffic collision, but it said nothing about the circumstances, nor how many officers opened fire.

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The incident occurred at the corner of Medford St. and North Indiana St., near the USC Keck School of Medicine.

Chavez “was involved in a motor vehicle accident, he got out, he was confused, he was arguing with the cops, and they tried to Tase him,” Guizar said.

"Two independent witnesses said [Chavez] clearly did not have a weapon — a knife or a gun," he said, and claimed the officers shot Chavez seven times.

‘They Panicked...And They Just Shot Him Dead’

“They panicked, they overreacted and they just shot him dead,” he said. “The law says you cannot use deadly force unless your life is in imminent danger of great bodily harm or death.”

Guizar, a well-known civil rights attorney who regularly represents the families of people shot by police, said he knew Chavez from playing basketball with him at a local gym.

“This is a very personal shooting for me,” he said.

Guizar said Chavez was not a gang member, had no tattoos, “none of that negative evidence.”

Chavez lived in the Ramona Gardens public housing project in Boyle Heights and worked as a security guard, according to Guizar. He added one reason Chavez may have been so upset after the traffic collision was that his 2020 Honda Civic had just been repaired at an auto body shop.

“It’s so tragic and unnecessary,” Guizar said.

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