Slain LAPD officer came home to protect his community
Off-duty Los Angeles police Officer Fernando Uriel Arroyos and his girlfriend were out shopping for a home in the unincorporated Florence-Firestone neighborhood of LA around 9 p.m. on Jan. 10, about 8 miles from where Arroyos attended school at Crenshaw High.
Arroyos, 27, wanted a home big enough where his mother could join the couple and close enough — but not so close he might run into troublemakers from the old neighborhood or his nearby Olympic patrol division — so the third-year officer could still serve the area where he grew up.
Three gang members and a woman who already lived in that neighborhood were also out shopping that day — for robbery victims, authorities said.
The woman, identified as Haylee Marie Grisham, the girlfriend of one of the gang members, had already outfitted herself with new clothes and shoes purchased with the proceeds from a robbery some 19 hours earlier, according to a federal criminal complaint.
As Luis Alfredo de los Rosa Rios steered his black pickup down E. 87th Street, he noticed jewelry around Arroyos’ neck.
“He has a nice chain, let’s get it,” Rios said, according to Grisham.
The gang members confronted Arroyos and his girlfriend. After an exchange of gunfire, the complaint said, Arroyos ran to an alley, where he collapsed. The attackers drove away, one of them shot and another injured by other means.
Arroyos later died from a single bullet wound.
Rios, 29, Grisham, 18, Ernesto Cisneros, 22, Jesse Contreras, 34, were arrested Wednesday, charged with violent crime in aid of racketeering — committing a crime to benefit a business. The federal charge carries a minimum penalty of life in prison without parole. They could face the death penalty because the slaying happened during a robbery.
Rios and Contreras appeared in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Friday and were ordered held without bond. Cisneros, who remains hospitalized, and Grisham did not appear.
Such prosecutions are usually handled in state court. But LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva took the case to federal authorities after he said he consulted with the District Attorney’s Office, which he has criticized for not seeking sentencing enhancements in gang-related cases.
“I believe their plan was to prosecute a simple murder with no gun enhancements, no gang enhancements,” which could have resulted in a 25-years-to-life sentence if convicted, Villanueva said at a news conference Thursday.
Alex Bastian, a spokesman for District Attorney George Gascón, said Friday that Gascón’s office supports the U.S. Department of Justice taking the case but that Gascón had not been given an opportunity to review it.
Out to ‘make money’
The complaint, a sworn affidavit, was written by an FBI special agent who interviewed the defendants, witnesses, jailhouse informants and law enforcement officers and reviewed surveillance video.
The Department of Justice, which is prosecuting the case, is long familiar with the multi-generational, mostly Latino gang that was founded in the LA area in the early 1950s.
Rios, Cisneros and Contreras, who according to the complaint admitted that they are gang members, set out with Grisham on Jan. 10 to “make money.” Their gang, like others, owes “taxes” to the Mexican Mafia, which controls drug trafficking and other operations in California prisons and jails and on the streets.
Rios said he was driving his truck, with Grisham, his girlfriend for the past year, in the front passenger seat, Contreras behind him and Cisneros behind Grisham. Rios said it was Contreras’ idea to grab Arroyos’ chains. Rios said Contreras handed him a gun. Rios said he took the walking stick of Arroyos’ girlfriend and searched her while Cisneros took Arroyos’ wallet with $100 in it.
Rios said he fired at least once and that he believed that Cisneros shot at Arroyos as well. Arroyos also fired, putting a hole in Rios’ white hooded sweatshirt and a wound in his ribcage. Contreras confessed to a police informant in his cell that he handed a gun to someone in the pickup, the complaint said.
When Cisneros got back to the pickup at 1712 E. 87th Street, he said he had a broken leg, according to Grisham. Surveillance video later showed Cisneros being lifted out of the truck at a different location.
Ten minutes after the shooting, the Sheriff’s Department received a report of shots being fired. Deputies found Arroyos wounded and drove him to St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, where he was pronounced dead at 9:38 p.m.
The Sheriff’s Department is asking for the public’s help in finding Arroyos’ black bifold black wallet with his identification inside and two silver chains, one with a sword pendant.
Family’s first college graduate
Arroyos always sat on the far left of the second row in the Olympic Division briefing room. Now, the empty chair has a plaque affixed to the back that lists his name, his first day on the job, Dec. 26, 2018, and his last, Jan. 10. It includes Bible verse Matthew 5:9 that a supervisor, Lt. Rex Ingram, said was special to Arroyos:
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
It was a fitting tribute, Ingram said, to an officer of uncommon humility and dedication who was often the first to arrive at roll call and always with a smile.
Ingram first noticed him when reading one of his reports.
“Instantly I realized his writing ability far exceeded his peers and his supervisors,” said Ingram, a 16-year veteran of the force. “I was so amazed at the way he wrote that I asked him where he went to school and he said LAUSD. I thought he was BSing me. I said where did you really go?”
Arroyos responded: “With all due respect, Sir, I went to Cal Berkeley.”
Arroyos attended the prestigious university with two goals, Ingram said. To be the first in his family to graduate from college, and to become an LAPD officer. Ingram asked Arroyos why, with his legal studies degree, he chose the LAPD over practicing law or the FBI.
“Sir, I want to protect and serve my community,” Arroyos replied.
Solving auto theft is a focus in the 6-square-mile division with 200,000 residents, and Arroyos worked hard to get the thieves off the streets and the vehicles back to their homes.
“That was kind of his niche. He was very good at it. The drive that he had was unparalleled among his peers,” Ingram said. “He was selfless and came to work every day without looking for reward or praise.”
For those reasons, Ingram used Arroyos as an example for the other officers, even before his death.
“He came on the job to serve with heart. That’s exactly what we want out of our partners,” Ingram said. “The sky was the limit for him.”