Two reputed gang members facing federal racketeering charges stemming from the fatal shooting of a 27-year-old off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer appeared in federal court Friday and were ordered to remain jailed without bond.
Jesse “Skinny Jack” Contreras, 34, and Luis Alfredo “Lil J” De La Rosa Rios, 29, were scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 3, with a very tentative Jan. 28 date set for a preliminary hearing. Two other defendants in the case — reputed gang member Ernesto “Gonzo” Cisneros, 22, and Rios’ 18-year-old girlfriend Haylee Marie Grisham — did not appear in court Friday.
Grisham is expected to make an initial appearance Tuesday, but an appearance date has not been set for Cisneros, who is believed to have been wounded in an exchange of gunfire in the Monday night confrontation that killed Officer Fernando Arroyos.
Authorities said the three gang members tried to rob Arroyos, who was targeted while he was house-hunting with his girlfriend in the Florence-Firestone area.
All four defendants were charged late Thursday with violent crime in aid of racketeering to increase and maintain position within the Florencia 13 gang. The charge carries a potential death penalty and a minimum sentence of life in federal prison without the possibility of parole because the fatal shooting occurred during a robbery, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Thursday night he directed detectives to take the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office because of his opposition to District Attorney George Gascón’s decision to no longer pursue sentencing enhancements in gang cases.
Those enhancements in a murder case can mean the difference between a life term with the possibility of parole and never being released from prison.
Villanueva said a murder prosecution “with no gun enhancements, no gang enhancements, nothing … really did not cover the depravity of this crime. It should be noted that the California penal code does cover all these things. The tools are there but we need to have someone who’s willing to use them.”
LAPD Chief Michel Moore said he was “grateful for the federal involvement in this case. It is appropriate. I am thankful for the U.S. Attorney stepping in and bringing the full weight of the government against this gang, against these individuals.”
The Los Angeles Police Protective League issued a statement Friday applauding the sheriff’s decision to seek federal prosecution, calling the U.S. Attorney’s actions “a complete repudiation of the dangerous policies and heartless treatment of crime victims exhibited by” the district attorney.
Craig Lally, president of the LAPPL, said that during a time when Los Angeles is experiencing a 15-year high in homicides and 54% increase in shootings since 2019, Gascón “should be prosecuting these murderers to the fullest extent of the law. (He) simply doesn’t have the courage or conviction to hold soulless murdering thugs accountable.”
The District Attorney’s Office responded Friday, saying it supports the federal handling of the case and will “be in communication with all the parties involved.”
“It was indicated to us that the case was referred to the federal authorities, who filed charges,” according to the DA’s Office. “As such, we did not have an opportunity to review the case.”
The shooting occurred about 9:15 p.m. Monday in the 8700 block of Beach Street, near Firestone Boulevard.
According to a sworn affidavit from an FBI agent, Rios admitted in an interview with sheriff’s detectives his involvement in the killing, saying he and the other defendants were driving around looking to “make money” by robbing someone.
The complaint alleges that Rios and Cisneros exited a black pickup and confronted Arroyos, a three-year veteran of the LAPD, and his girlfriend as they were searching for a home to purchase in the area.
The two allegedly pointed guns at the victims and removed property from both, including a wallet and two silver chains from Arroyos’ neck, said sheriff’s Capt. Joe Mendoza
“At some point after Cisneros removed (Arroyos’) chains, (Arroyos) and the two suspects exchanged gunfire,” according to the criminal complaint.
Arroyos sustained a single gunshot wound, ran from the area and collapsed in an alley as the two suspects fled the scene in the truck.
Responding sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene and found bystanders performing CPR on Arroyos, Mendoza said. The deputies loaded Arroyos into a patrol car and took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Detectives retrieved a loaded handgun from the scene belonging to one of the suspects, and the sheriff’s department received a report about 9:25 p.m. Monday of a man suffering a gunshot wound in the area of Junction Street and East 60th Street about a mile-and-a-half from the site of the shooting, Mendoza said.
Investigators later determined the wounded man was Cisneros, who was shot during the exchange with Arroyos. Contreras was also found in the area hiding inside the garage of his residence in the 5900 block of Junction Street.
A second handgun was retrieved from Contreras’ residence and will be tested to determine if it was used in the shooting, Mendoza said.
Rios and Graham were later found and taken into custody at their residence.