Gunman who killed Whittier officer had fatally shot cousin hours earlier, police say

One officer was killed and a second injured in a shootout with a gang member who was wounded in a Monday morning altercation in Whittier, authorities said.

Three Whittier Police Department officers were responding to the scene of a traffic collision about 8 a.m. when a 26-year-old, recently paroled man driving a stolen car opened fire with a semiautomatic pistol, said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lt. John Corina.

Detectives said the alleged gunman, who is expected to survive, is also a suspect in homicide that occurred in East Los Angeles. They believe he stole a vehicle Sunday morning after killing a man, his cousin, then drove into Whittier, where he encountered the police.

The slain officer was identified as Keith Boyer, a 27-year veteran of the department.

Update: Police chief says Whittier officer's slaying shows danger of criminal justice reform, but details are unclear »

Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper broke down in tears recounting Boyer, whom he described as a close friend and beloved member of the department. He said Boyer was a mentor to others in the department and had recently talked about retiring. 

Boyer played in a community band that performed for charity. At the police station, he was known for his sunny, friendly disposition and willingness to lend help and offer advice, the chief said.

“He was the best of the best,” Piper said tearfully during a Monday afternoon news conference. "This is an unbelievably senseless tragedy.”

Piper said the shooting suspect, whose name has not been made public, was released from custody early. He blamed the early release on a series of new laws designed to reduce incarcerations in California.

Neither Piper nor the Sheriff’s Department offered specific information about his record or how he was released early. But the chief said Boyer’s killing showed how these laws have made the streets less safe.

“We need to wake up. Enough is enough,” he said.

Two officers were hit by gunfire and taken to UC Irvine Medical Center, where Boyer was pronounced dead, Corina said. The  wounded officer is in stable condition while the suspect was taken to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.

The shooter, according to police, had been involved in a traffic accident with another vehicle near Colima Road and Mar Vista Street, and approached the driver he had rear-ended to help push his silver car to the side of a road around the corner. 

Police officers arrived in three cars and approached the man, who was seated in the silver car, Corina said. He got out and as officers moved to pat him down, he pulled a gun from his waistband and began shooting at close range.

“He started firing at the officers and they returned fire," Corina said. “We are still looking into that, why he just opened fire.”

Officers believed they were responding to a routine traffic call and did not know the vehicle was stolen when they approached.

"It seems like a simple traffic accident and next thing they know they're in a gunfight,” Corina said, adding that “you never know when you respond to a call, what you are going to run into.”

Corina said both officers were wearing bulletproof vests and were shot in the body.

Police have not identified the shooter pending the ongoing investigation, but described him as a Los Angeles gang member who had been released on parole within the last two weeks and had many tattoos, including on his neck and face. He was driving a stolen car from East L.A.

The accused gunman is suspected of fatally shooting his 46-year-old cousin, Roy Torres, early Monday, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said. Torres was killed at 5:29 a.m. in the 1400 block of Volney Drive in East Los Angeles, according to the department.

It was the first fatal shooting of a police officer in Whittier in more than 37 years, Mayor Joe Vinatieri said.

“This is a very sad day for our officers, the families involved, the Whittier Police Department and our community,” Vinatieri said. “But we’re pulling together. And we're going to take care of these families and we're going to take care of this police department.”

Investigators are still trying to piece together what motive the shooter had to fire on officers and have not interviewed him yet because he is being treated at the hospital, Corina said.

Emergency responders at the scene performed CPR on a male officer while wheeling him into an ambulance, said Brian Feinzimer, a freelance photojournalist who was at the scene as authorities responded Monday morning.

Also visible in the eastbound lanes of Mar Vista Street east of Colima Road was a Whittier police SUV with shattered windows and a suspect who was handcuffed facedown on the pavement, Feinzimer said. 

The shootout unfolded in a quiet and lushly landscaped neighborhood of suburban tract homes, churches, sports parks and rolling hills.

Near the scene, a woman and young girl dressed in plaid shirts stopped in their SUV and hugged a Whittier police officer at the yellow police tape near the Friendly Hills Country club.

Monday afternoon, a  procession of police vehicles traveled from the hospital, accompanying the slain officer’s body to the Orange County coroner’s office. Their cars were greeted by a line of law enforcement officers who saluted as the procession drove by.

The Whittier Police Department has about 128 sworn officers who patrol the cities of Whittier and Santa Fe Springs in southeastern Los Angeles County. 

City officials invited the public to attend a prayer vigil 6 p.m. Monday at the Whittier Police Department.

Monday’s shooting marks the third time a police officer in Whittier was slain in the line of duty in the department’s 100-year history. Whittier officers were killed in 1977 and 1979, according to the city.

Boyer is survived by several children.

The lawman also had another life as a drummer. A few times a month for the last two years, he’d drive nearly two hours south to Temecula to play with Mrs. Jones’ Revenge, a classic-rock tribute band that performs at wineries and weddings. He’d split up with his fiancée, who lived in Temecula, but he still came down to make music, band leader Jeff McNeal said.

“It was probably a nice release for him, with the kind of high-stress work he does,” said McNeal, 57, adding that Boyer’s technical skill as a drummer “elevated” the band.

“One of the reasons I didn’t initially ask if he wanted to join was I assumed as a cop, he’s probably a Type A personality, he’s gonna want to be in control. But I was totally wrong about that,” McNeal said. “I was afraid we’d have arguments, but he was extremely enthusiastic and very supportive. Probably the easiest guy in the whole band. Always willing to play. He loved the music. It was his passion.”

“Radar Love” by Golden Earring was one of Boyer’s favorite songs to play, McNeal said.

tony.barboza@latimes.com | @tonybarboza

richard.winton@latimes.com | @LAcrimes

Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.

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UPDATES:

8:25 p.m.: This article was updated with authorities identifying the man killed early Monday.

5:10 p.m.: This article was updated with biographic information on Boyer.

4:05 p.m.: This article was updated with details about the alleged gunman being a suspect in an East Los Angeles homicide and comments from the Whittier police chief.

3:10 p.m. This article was updated with new details and comment from the Whittier mayor.

1:40 p.m.: This article was updated with information about other officers slain in Whittier in previous years.

1:30 p.m.: This article was updated with details about the police procession.

12:04 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details on the traffic accident and shooting.

11:41 a.m.: This article was updated with new information from the Sheriff’s Department. 

11:15 a.m.: This article was updated with the death of a police officer, information from a photographer at the scene and with information on the Whittier Police Department.

This article was originally published at 10 a.m. 

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