LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - Federal prosecutors say the three men now charged in the shooting death of 27-year-old Los Angeles Police Officer Fernando Arroyos are members of a notorious street gang, and the woman arrested is an associate and the girlfriend of one of the men.
"We have a criminal street gang that's been multi-generational. It's plagued the community, it's plagued the Newton area for decades," said LAPD Chief Michel Moore.
The charges come after Arroyos, who was off-duty at the time, was house hunting with his girlfriend in South LA just after 9 p.m. on Monday.
According to the criminal complaint, suspect Luis Rios said he and his group were driving around looking to "make money," a term for robberies. The complaint says suspect Ernesto Contreras told him to stop the truck and "get the chain," referring to the jewelry Arroyos was wearing.
In the complaint, Haylee Grisham, the girlfriend, is quoted as saying 22-year-old Ernesto Cisneros pointed the gun at the officer and ordered him to "give him the chains." She said she heard several gunshots and saw Rios run back to the car.
Officer Arroyos was hit during an exchange of gunfire and later died. After an intense manhunt, the suspects were arrested two days later.
Normally, in a case like this, police would take their case to prosecutors in the district attorney's office. However, in a news conference Thursday night, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva explained why his investigators took the case to the U.S. Attorney's Office instead.
"We definitely had conversations with the local DA's and their response was not satisfactory. Their plan was just to prosecute a simple murder with no gun enhancements, no gang enhancements, nothing," Villanueva said at the conference. "That did not really cover the depravity of this crime."
Chief Moore also said he thought federal charges were warranted.
"Federal charges in this, the full and complete authority and weight of the federal government, is deserved, warranted and regardless of what the district attorney would do, or not, I'm grateful that the case was referred to federal authorities, who filed charges," Moore said.
The Arroyos family advocate, Moses Castillo, said that the slain officer's family was worried that District Attorney George Gascón would not have prosecuted the four suspects as strongly as the U.S. Attorney's office.
"He was going to charge the bare minimum, just murder. Nothing more, nothing less," said Castillo, a retired LAPD officer.
In response, Gascón's office sent CBSLA a statement which said:
"We support the federal authorities taking 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. As such, we did not have an opportunity to review the case."
Criminal defense attorney Lou Shapiro told CBSLA that it's rare for the federal government to actually pick up state crime on a local level. According to Shapiro, law enforcement, in this case, went to the feds in order to get the stiffest sentences possible.
"Had it gone just the state, it would've been a 25 to life case. They could've gotten out before 25 years. By going to the feds, they're going via the RICO statute, which could potentially carry even the death penalty," he said.
Another criminal defense attorney Alexandra Kazarian said that the legal etiquette would be to give the case to both local and federal prosecutors while also giving insight into Gascón's policies.
"George's position is that we don't need extra enhancements," she said. "People don't need to be sentenced to 175 years to life if they have life without parole."
Shapiro also believes law enforcement is sending a message that criminal activity like this will not be tolerated anymore.
"Federal judges, they are not beholden to voters. Putting in the hands of a federal judge, that sort of gives the judge complete latitude to sentence the defendants as he/she thinks is appropriate," the criminal defense attorney said.
Two of the suspects in Arroyos death, Contreras and Rios, appeared in federal court on Friday and were ordered to be held without bond, with arraignments set for Feb. 3. If convicted, all four defendants will be eligible for the death penalty.
for more features.