By C. Harold Pierce
A 23-year-old father fatally shot by Tustin police Feb. 10 was unarmed when officers opened fire, despite initial reports that he had a knife, witnesses said.
“The father sees clearly his son coming out with his hands flailing. Nothing in his hands,” Humberto Guizar, the family’s attorney said. “There was no such knife.”
Villa’s stepfather, Francisco Mejia, was about 20 feet away when officers opened fire.
Police responding to a 911 call for a family disturbance found former Santa Ana College student Robert Villa armed with a knife outside his home before shooting, according to Tustin Interim Chief of Police Charles Celano.
But witnesses say there was no knife.
Celano declined to comment on the witness’ claims, citing an ongoing investigation by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
The family filed a government claim Wednesday and plans to press charges against the city, Guizar said.
Villa leaves behind a three-year-old son.
“My grandson asks everyday, ‘where’s my daddy?’ You guys [police] took him away,” Villa’s mother, Leticia said through tears. “You guys took him away. I want to know who killed my son, because it was more than one police officer. I want to hear this man’s excuse for why he took my son’s life.”
Someone from Villa’s family called 911 to report him, Celano said.
More than 60 activists, family members and friends gathered Tuesday at Villa’s memorial before marching to Tustin City Hall waving signs and chanting “Justice for Robert – jail killer cops.”
Protesters demanded the names of officers involved in the shooting, but they will not be released until the investigation is finished.
Villa’s death raises questions of police misuse of force and is just one of dozens of incidences, said protester Damion Ramirez whose friend Michael Nida was fatally shot by Downey police in 2011 in a case of mistaken identity.
“This is a crisis. This is an epidemic in this country. Robert was killed right in front of his family,” Ramirez said.
There have been less than three officer-involved shootings in the last five years in Tustin, Celano said.
Court records show a man with the same name and birth date as Villa pleaded guilty to felony burglary and inflicting corporal injury and misdemeanor violating a protective order in 2012, and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or significant other in 2011.
Guizar declined to comment on Villa’s past record.
See related story: Former Santa Ana College student fatally shot by police