Los Angeles County sheriff's officials are facing continued pressure to answer questions about deputies' fatal shooting of a teenager in the unincorporated Westmont neighborhood near South Los Angeles, with infuriated demonstrators staging a protest outside an NBA All-Star Weekend event on Sunday evening, exactly two weeks after the incident took place.
The dispute over whether 16-year-old Anthony Weber was armed when he was gunned down by L.A. County sheriff's deputies has created further distrust between South L.A. area residents, who say the use of force was unjustified, and law enforcement officials who have not recovered a weapon.
Tensions have been high since immediately after the shooting, when a crowd of outraged onlookers gathered at the scene in an Westmont apartment complex courtyard. That's when sheriff's officials allege Weber's gun was removed from his body in his dying moments.
But activists, including Keyanna Celina, who turned out at Sunday's event outside the Staples Center, say such explanations are insufficient.
“It’s sad that people are willing to believe that poor black and brown people are just so criminal-minded that that’s what we want to go do, is go pick up a gun, and that there’s no real righteous, emotional outrage,” she told KTLA.
Investigators have also suggested that Weber could have passed a firearm off to another individual before he was shot, said Cliff Smith, who claims Weber only ran about 100 feet.
"The only people that say Anthony probably gave something to somebody else is the same people that already came up with a previous version that somebody probably took it after he was already shot," Smith said. "So this is their second cover-up story. The first cover-up story didn't hold water and that's why they changed it, and the second cover-up story actually makes even less sense."
Investigators say they've spoken with at least one witness who didn't see a gun but did say deputies could be heard telling Weber "don’t reach for it, don’t reach for it," implying they believed he had a weapon.
Community activists remain unconvinced. Celina could be heard shouting into a loudspeaker at Sunday's event, "The sheriff's can not produce a gun, and so instead of admitting that they shot an unarmed person, they lie even more and say that someone in the community must have swiped it."
Furthermore, there remain sticking points between some witnesses' and the Sheriff's Department's version of events. A woman named Ashley Briggs who described herself as one of Weber's closest friends said she was on a staircase in the apartment complex as the violence unfolded on Feb. 4.
In an interview with KTLA that night, she claimed the deputies indicated they were serving a search warrant, though the Sheriff's Department has said the deputies were responding to a 911 call about a young man pointing a gun at someone's car on West 107th Street.
Weber matched the description provided of the young man and refused to comply with the deputies' orders, officials said. He was shot several times after reaching down toward his waistband, where the deputies believed they saw a gun.
But Briggs maintains that her friend wasn't armed, and says the deputies should have been able to see this as Weber wasn't wearing a shirt.
"They just started shooting at him and we knew instantly he wasn't going to make it," she said, adding that they opened fire "for no reason."
Sheriff's officials have said Weber's shirt was cut off by responding paramedics, and that the deputies involved were "articulate in describing specific features" of the alleged firearm.
The protesters are now calling on L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to prosecute the two deputies involved in Weber's death. Celina told KTLA she believes both should be charged “the same way if any of us civilians had killed someone.”
The deputies have been placed on administrative leave while the investigation runs its course.
Sunday's event was at least the second demonstration surrounding Weber's death, following a similar rally on Feb. 10 in Westmont.
Emotions also boiled over at an emergency community meeting, where Weber's father brought an enlarged photo of his son lying on the ground and asked, “Where’s the gun? Where’s the gun? I know where the bullets are — they’re right in my baby’s back,” according to the Los Angeles Times.