The state has added $50,000 to the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the shooting death of a 16-year-old girl whose body was dumped alongside the Harbor (110) Freeway in South Los Angeles, officials said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, two Los Angeles City Council members introduced a motion asking for an equity analysis of violence and crime targeting Black women and girls, how the cases are handled and the rate at which they are solved.
During a news conference seeking the public’s help in solving the killing of Tioni Theus, Assistant Chief Jesus Holguin of the California Highway Patrol told reporters Wednesday morning he had just gotten news that Gov. Gavin Newsom approved the $50,000 reward, which brings the total possible reward money being offered in the case to $110,000.
Tioni’s body was discovered Jan. 8 on the side of the freeway on the Manchester Avenue on-ramp near South Figueroa Street.
“We’re very confident that we’re moving forward in a positive direction and hopefully have some good news in the very near future,” Holguin said during a Zoom news conference in which Los Angeles County District Attorney George GascÃ³n joined other elected officials.
City Councilmen Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Curren Price have introduced a motion calling on the city to offer a $50,000 reward for information involving the teen’s killing. The motion is expected to be voted upon in the coming week. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $10,000 reward offer Tuesday.
The district attorney said there is evidence indicating that “this young girl may have been the victim of human trafficking,” and noted that the investigation into her death is ongoing.
“We need the public’s help,” GascÃ³n said. “Please help bring Tioni’s murderer to justice, and if you have any information, please contact the California Highway Patrol.”
Harris-Dawson said he was grateful to community members who “literally on the next day were on the steps of the 77th (Street) police station in Los Angeles, demanding that our police department, California Highway Patrol, the county sheriff’s and everybody get involved to bring this assailant to justice.
“It is what we owe Tioni and it is what we owe all the children of our community so that they know they live in a place where if anybody lays a hand on them the community will rally to their protection and to their defense,” the councilman said.
But pointing to what they called a disparity in media coverage of missing and murdered Black women and girls compared to white victims, Harris-Dawson and Price introduced another motion Wednesday asking for a report on the handling of such cases.
Their motion asks that the city’s Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department and police department to make recommendations to improve equity and justice for all crime victims.
The equity analysis would include information on violence and crime experienced by Black women and girls in Los Angeles, the rate at which homicides and violent crime against Black women and are girls are solved, how missing persons cases involving Black women and girls are handled and policy recommendations to increase equity and justice for Black victims and their families.
They note in their motion that it took nearly two weeks after Tioni’s death before any requests were made for public help finding her killer.
“…While violent crime against any individual, regardless of race or gender, is a terrible tragedy, deep inequities exist in the violence and crime Black women and girls face, the way in which those crimes are covered in the media, and in turn, the way in which society perceive sand responds to the problem,” according to the motion. “Tioni Theus, and all Black women and girls who have been the victims of violent crime, deserve our attention, compassion and the swift and urgent pursuit of justice.”
The motion cited a 2016 Northwestern Law Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology study that found that missing-person cases involving Black people make up about one-fifth of such reports in the mainstream media, even though they make up one-third of all missing-person cases reported to the FBI. About 34% of missing girls and women in 2020 were Black, despite Black girls and women being only about 15% of the U.S. female population, the motion added, citing the National Crime Information Center.
Last Saturday, a group of activists gathered and pushed for elected officials to offer a reward for information in the girl’s killing. They said then that the absence of a reward in the killing of the young Black girl stood in stark contrast to the reward of up to $250,000 that was quickly offered in the search for the killer of 24-year-old Brianna Kupfer, a white Pacific Palisades resident and UCLA grad student who was fatally stabbed Jan. 13 inside a boutique furniture store in Hancock Park. Her alleged killer was arrested days later.
Tioni was last seen Jan. 7 after telling a family member she was going to meet a friend to go to a party, officials said. No further information was provided, and no suspect description was available.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Police Commission this week, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said Tuesday the case was something that “all of Los Angeles should be paying close attention to.”
He added that other than the anticipated reward money, “the incentive should be that we know in our community that this murder did not occur in a vacuum and that … this young girl was tragically taken from us and the people responsible are still amongst us, which poses an imminent risk to all of us.”
The investigation is being handled by the CHP, but the LAPD offered investigative assistance. Moore told the Police Commission the CHP hasn’t yet identified a suspect and does not yet have a description of the suspect or involved vehicle.
According to Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell’s motion to authorize the county’s $10,000 reward offer, Tioni “lived in Compton and was a student at Centennial High School. She was reportedly living with her father as her mother recovered from a serious hit-and-run accident. Family members say she was a straight-A student and enjoyed dance and golf.
“Investigators are urging anyone with information about this incident to contact the California Highway Patrol. A reward will encourage members of the public to come forward with information that can help identify the individual(s) responsible for her death.”
Speaking with community activists at Saturday’s news conference, Rashida Kincy, a cousin of Tioni, described her as a “vibrant young lady that was just cut from so much that was ahead of her.”
“This has been a tragedy to my family, to the community,” she said.
The CHP asked anyone with information about her killing to call the agency at 323-644-9557.
Funeral services for Tioni will be held Thursday afternoon at Winston Mortuary in Los Angeles. Members of the public are welcome to attend.