A week after Tustin police killed 23-year-old Robert Villa, family and supporters gathered at the apartment complex where the officer-involved shooting took place. Humberto Guizar, a lawyer representing the family, took issue with Tustin PD's claim that Villa had a knife at the time police gunned him down.
His main witness? Villa's stepfather, who says he saw the shooting.
"The [step]father of the decedent, Robert Villa, was a percipient witness that had a clear view of everything," says Guizar, who also represents the families of Manuel Diaz and Martin Hernandez, victims of two controversial Anaheim officer-involved shootings in 2012. "When he walked out of the apartment, he had his hands in the air in an angered state, but he did not have a weapon in his hand of any kind."
The Casa Cortez apartment complex where the shooting took place has units facing each other with front patios. A memorial of votive candles and Valentine's Day balloons marked the spot where Villa was killed. The family spent most of the time prior to a protest march on Tustin's city council grieving and praying in their apartment. The stepfather emerged at one point with Guizar to demonstrate where he stood at the time of the shooting. He positioned himself roughly 23 feet away from the memorial site almost in a straight line direction from it.
Where he saw the officers at the time of the shooting remains clear. Guizar claims that they came from Nisson Road, where cars are parked. Had Villa been armed with a knife, police officers are legally allowed to use deadly force if within 21 feet. "I challenge them to show me a witness that says he had a knife," Guizar says of Orange County District Attorney's (OCDA) office currently investigating the matter, noting he had additional witnesses to the shooting.
Tustin Police Chief Charles Celano reached out to the Villa family to offer condolences, according to the attorney. The fateful morning of February 10 started out with a family dispute. "It was a very simple, average police call," Guizar says. "The family called for help, but instead of getting help, they got their son killed."
About 75 protesters headed out to Tustin city council later in the evening for a spirited march led by Villa's mother and father. Prior to the demonstration, the attorney told the Weekly that the mother and her husband weren't giving interviews to media. Once the march reached city hall, Leticia Villa did speak to those gathered.
"Nobody deserves to die this way," she said, struggling to contain her emotions. "Speak up. Do not be afraid. The truth will be revealed by my Lord." The mother was able to gather herself once more. "My heart is broken," she said, sobbing. "This is not fair."
A KTLA-TV Channel 5 news reporter told the Weekly that Chip Yost, the channel's OC bureau chief, had an unaired interview snippet where Leticia Villa said that she called the police and that her son had a knife in the apartment. Asked for comment, Guizar offered that Robert Villa may have had a knife at the time of the call, but not at the time of the shooting.
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Chief Celano spoke before the city council and reiterated the department's version. His comments caused Leticia to leave the chambers.
Robert Villa leaves a son, Robert Villa Jr., behind.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz