By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photo by Nick ShouElmer Bustos died just moments after making a fatal mistake: running from cops. But that's the only thing police and witnesses seem to agree on.
According to the Santa Ana Police Department, 17-year-old Elmer shot at police after they confronted him while he walked with his girlfriend about a block south of Willard Intermediate School.
"A handgun was recovered at the scene," said Sergeant Baltazar De La Riva, a Santa Ana P.D. spokesman. "There were expended rounds that were recovered. We have several witnesses who saw the incident as it unfolded. There are rumors of other witnesses who saw otherwise, and I strongly suggest those witnesses contact the DA's office and tell them what they saw."
But three witnesses—Elmer's girlfriend, his cousin and a bystander whom police shot in the leg—say that while Elmer may have been armed, they never saw him holding a weapon and he never fired a shot. Instead, they claim police shot Elmer in the back as he ran away and then took so long to call an ambulance that he died shortly after reaching the hospital.
"They say my son shot at them, but nobody saw him shooting at anybody," said Elmer's father, Mario Bustos.
This much is clear: Elmer, who was on probation thanks to his relationship with a local gang, wasn't supposed to be in the neighborhood. Yet he regularly went there to visit his girlfriend, Yessenia Jimenez. At about 2:50 p.m. on Jan. 27, the pair were walking north on Van Ness Avenue when a police cruiser pulled up beside them. An officer asked Elmer what he was doing there. According to a written statement Jimenez made on Jan. 30, Elmer responded, "I'm just here for my lady. We're already leaving."
Jimenez said Elmer panicked and ran around the corner to Lime Street, where he found himself cornered by police. By the time she caught up with him, several gunshots had been fired, Elmer was lying face-down on the street, and officers were placing handcuffs on him, holding him down with their knees. She says she stayed for about 20 minutes, when an ambulance finally arrived.
Elmer's 14-year-old cousin, Alejandro Bustos, also witnessed the shooting. He says he saw Elmer running down the street, being chased by a police cruiser. When the car stopped and officers jumped out, Elmer turned and ran toward him, grabbing his baggy pants to run faster. He says police yelled at Elmer to stop, at which point Elmer started to turn around and police shot him.
"He fell with one arm under him and another stretched out," Alejandro said. "That's when the cop got on his back." He said police called for backup and, shortly thereafter, several police cars pulled up. "They didn't call the ambulance right away. My cousin got treated after this other person, even though that person was only shot in the leg."
When the ambulance arrived, Alejandro said, "It wasn't to look out for his well-being because they picked him up carelessly and dropped him on the [stretcher] bed. That was when Elmer threw up blood, and I left."
The other person was 15-year-old Carlos Castaneda, who was standing nearby. In a written statement he made two days after the shooting, Castaneda said police had no reason to shoot Elmer. "When he was down, one of the cops had his knee on his back, and they were screaming, 'Stay down; don't move.' And [that] lasted, like, 15 minutes [before] they called the ambulance."
"I haven't had any contact with the DA investigators or the police for more than a month—not a word," said Mario. "I am going to fight for justice no matter how long it takes."