The murder of Officer Keith Boyer reveals the dangers of early prisoner release

A recidivist gang member whose record includes a 2010 robbery conviction and a 2014 conviction for GTA murdered Officer Keith Boyer ten days after his release on parole

Ten days after being released on parole, a recidivist gang member named Michael Mejia reportedly murdered his cousin in East Los Angeles and stole his car. He subsequently crashed that vehicle into two other cars in nearby Whittier.

Two of the Whittier police officers who responded to assist at the crash scene were Keith Boyer and Patrick Hazel. Mejia ambushed them and a gunfight ensued. Officer Boyer was pronounced dead at the hospital. Officer Hazel was wounded and remains in stable condition.

Mejia is a career criminal with a history of drugs and violence whose record includes a 2010 robbery conviction and a 2014 conviction for grand theft auto. Until mid-2016, he had been held at Pelican Bay State Prison, where California keeps some of its most violent offenders, preventing them from doing harm to innocents on the outside.

Theresa Mendoza, a formerly homeless woman who knew Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer, adds a rose to a growing memorial for the fallen hero.
Theresa Mendoza, a formerly homeless woman who knew Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer, adds a rose to a growing memorial for the fallen hero. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Mejia is presently in custody at a hospital — recovering from the wounds he received during the gunfight — and is expected to be charged within the week.

Early release and slackened parole

Early reports indicated that Mejia was released under conditions set by Assembly Bill 109. Subsequent reports contradicted this narrative. Regardless of whether or not Mejia was an AB 109 probationer, Boyer’s death has reignited the debate over that legislation — as well as Proposition 47 and other prison reform ballot initiatives which have led to the early release of countless violent criminals across the country.

Assembly Bill 109 — which was passed by the California legislature and signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2011 — seeks to reduce prison overcrowding by moving certain felony offenders from state prisons to county facilities. Further, AB 109 shifted post-release supervision of certain criminals from state to local supervision. Under AB 109, prisoners convicted of a “triple-non offense” — non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual — who are up for parole would be eligible for post-release community supervision (PRCS) probation. Importantly, AB 109 eligibility is based on the offense the person is in jail for at the time, not their prior criminal record.

Proposition 47 — a ballot initiative passed in 2014 — reduced some felony property and drug crimes to become misdemeanors. This has effectively taken many of these offenders out of the court systems altogether — time is a zero-sum equation and district attorneys pick and choose their cases based on where they want/need to spend their time. Typically, felony cases trump misdemeanors.

AB 109 and Prop 47 have led to what have become known as “flash incarcerations.” Again aimed at keeping the state prison population down, this punishes probationers with up to 10 days in jail for “minor” violations of their parole that — prior to those two laws — would have otherwise sent them back to prison.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Mejia was “flash incarcerated” for various violations of his parole five times in the past seven months.

Let that sink in for a moment — Mejia was incarcerated five times in the past seven months. A very reasonable argument could be made that given history — recent and overall — he should have been behind bars and not free on the streets to murder one peace officer and wound another.

The definition of insane

Instead of addressing the issue of prison overcrowding from a rational perspective — instead of electing to build more jails to house dangerous criminals — the voting public and their elected representatives have repeatedly voted to allow for the early release of career criminals. They have voted to create an environment where DAs won’t even pursue charges for various criminal offences, allowing those offenders to roam free to reoffend. They have voted to allow dangerous predators to prey upon the weak and the vulnerable in our society.

That is insane.

An argument can be made that these laws need to be immediately repealed so this type of horrific event does not occur again. Mejia supplied the means (the ability to commit the crime) and the motive (the desire to commit the crime), but had he been behind bars, the element of opportunity would not be present.

Law enforcement officers, officials and organizations have for years said that these ballot initiatives put the public — and the police — in peril, and the murder of Boyer casts in stark relief the danger of early release of career criminals and violent gang members.

The union that represents LAPD officers sent messages to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra asking for a review of the effect these two measures have had on public safety.

Following the death of his friend and colleague, Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper stood before the cameras and the microphones at a press conference and fought back tears.

“We need to wake up,” Piper said. “Enough is enough. Passing these propositions, you’re creating these laws that are raising crime. It’s not good for our communities and it is not good for our officers. What you have today is an example of that.”

Too many unnecessary tragedies

Mejia is not the first — sadly, nor will he be the last — parolee to kill a police officer.

Lovelle Mixon was released on parole, put back in prison for parole violation, and then released again. Mixon then murdered Motor Officers Mark Dunakin and John Hege at a traffic stop in Oakland, California. A few hours later, Mixon murdered Sergeants Daniel Sakai and Ervin Romans as they were attempting to apprehend him at his sister’s apartment.

Maurice Clemmons — despite having multiple felonies on his record as a career criminal — was released from prison in Arkansas on a unanimous vote by a parole board. A few years later at a coffee shop in Lakewood, Washington, Clemmons ambushed and murdered Sergeant Mark Renniger and Officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards.

There have been too many other cops killed by parolees to catalog here. Check ODMP. Hundreds of cops have been killed by men who rightfully should have been behind bars at the time.

Boyer — a 27-year-veteran of the Whittier PD who had recently begun to speak about retiring — should be alive today. His kids should have their father. He should be playing drums with his bandmates in his time off.

Will Boyer’s death be a turning point for public support for legislation — like AB 109 and Proposition 47 — that puts violent criminals on the streets?

I hope so. But I’m not betting on it.

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