The parents of a young man killed in Pacoima last year, in what police described as an attempted robbery, are saying justice reform efforts by the new Los Angeles County District Attorney could lead to a potentially more lenient sentence for the alleged murderer of their son.
Anthony “Little Tony” Lopez II was shot around 10 p.m. on Jan.13, 2020, after a confrontation between him and two male suspects at the corner of Bromont Street and Fielding Avenue in Pacoima. What Lopez II was doing there and what prompted the confrontation is still not clear.
After being shot, the 20-year-old drove his car less than a mile before stopping near the intersection of Foothill Boulevard and Vaughn Street, where he got out of the vehicle and collapsed. People who were at a “taco truck” nearby, saw him and called 9-1-1.
His parents describe Lopez II as “a caring and joking guy” who had just registered to attend California State University Northridge (CSUN) after a paperwork issue prevented him from finishing Marine boot camp.
His father, Tony Lopez, says police called his son “Superman” because when they showed up to provide aide he had a bullet in his hand.
Two Arrests Made
For 10 months the case went unsolved until October when, during a random traffic stop, two brothers — alleged shooter Anthony Valadez, 16, and Andrew Valadez, 20, were arrested for Lopez II’s murder. When police stopped the Valadez’s car, they found a gun on Anthony Valadez. They say the bullet “Little Tony” held in his hand was fired by that weapon.
The Valadez brothers and “Little Tony” apparently didn’t know each other. Although police investigators believe the tragedy occurred during an attempted robbery, Lopez II’s father said he doesn’t know what led to the confrontation between his son and the alleged attackers.
“My son was not confrontational, not combative. He was not a gang member. He was a good kid,” Tony Lopez said. “They shot him in the back. My son went and jumped in the car and he started to get away. They fired multiple shots at my son.
“[The shooter] was shooting to kill. He knew what he was doing,” added Terry, his mother.
Despite efforts by doctors to save his life, Lopez II died at the hospital.
Juvenile vs. Adult Sentences
Anthony Valadez doesn’t have a prior criminal record. During his first court appearance in November—when Jackie Lacey was the county district attorney — prosecutors sought to try him as an adult rather than a juvenile.
However, when they went back to court in December the county had a new District Attorney. George Gascon had defeated Lacey in the November general election, and has been attempting to institute various reforms in the county’s legal system — including reduced punishment for minors — since taking office.
Prosecutors have withdrawn the request to try Anthony Valadez as an adult. In addition, Tony Lopez said, the accused is seeking a plea deal before his next court date on Feb. 22, where he would admit to committing the crime.
If Valadez does plead guilty as a juvenile, he would serve a maximum sentence of nine years, Tony Lopez said. On the other hand, if Valadez is tried and convicted as an adult, he would face a prison sentence of 25 years to life.
A nine-year sentence for the alleged killer of their son doesn’t set well with “Little Tony’s” parents.
“Out of the nine years, he could be out within three-to-five years for good behavior, counseling, therapy,” Tony Lopez said.
“The kid gets a slap on the hand. But we as a family get slapped across the face,” said the father, adding that he doesn’t believe nine years is “enough time” for a murderer to reform.
“To me, this kid [would be getting] away with this. He’s going to do some time, but not enough time to be rehabilitated. This policy (of Gascon’s) is absurd.”
The Lopez family, along with other victims’ families, recently spoke with Gascon via a Zoom meeting and pleaded with him to change some of the reforms he’s instituted. But the county district attorney told the families that he believes in science, which says a minor’s mind is not able to make a clear and sound choice until the age of 25.
“If that’s the case, why are we trying adults at 18?” asked Tony Lopez. “I would hate for this kid to get out of jail and go and commit another crime like this again.”
Also, if Valadez pleads guilty there won’t be a trial and the parents won’t find out what led to the altercation that ended their son’s life. And they would not get to face their son’s alleged killers.
“He doesn’t get to see the damage that he’s done to a family,” Tony Lopez said.
Other Backlash to Reforms
Gascon’s new policies have received plenty of criticism, including from prosecutors in his own department who filed a petition against him.
On Feb. 8, a judge ruled primarily in favor of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County in the Valadez case, saying Gascon could not order his prosecutors to ignore laws that the association says protect the public, including three-strike allegations and sentencing enhancements.
The association argued the directives being implemented by Gascon violate state law. It especially opposes the directive that calls for dismissing, withdrawing or not filing special circumstance allegations that could result in a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole for defendants charged with murder.
“The touchstone of prosecutorial discretion is the exercise of case-by-case discretion, which (Gascon’s) special directives expressly, intentionally and undisputedly prohibit,” the association’s lawyers stated in their court papers. “Those directives are thus unlawful.”
Gascon’s reforms also dismiss gang enhancements and firearm allegations that can add more time to prison sentences, the association said.
Gascon said his office will follow the judge’s ruling, but he plans to appeal as he believes his reforms are in the interests of public safety.
“We can no longer afford — morally, socially or economically — to justify tough-on-crime policies in the name of victims when a majority of the survivor community supports rehabilitation over excessive sentences. The long-term health and safety of our community depend on it,” the county district attorney said in a statement after the decision.
Some victims’ families are so enraged by Gascon’s reforms that they have vowed to start a recall against him. For that to happen, Gascon — who was sworn in on Dec. 7 — must be in office at least 90 days. And collecting the needed signatures to bring a special recall election could take several months before an actual vote.
Tony Lopez said he would support a recall. He thinks Gascon’s blanket policies are unfair and sentencing enhancements should be decided on a case-by-case basis — as in the case of his son’s alleged murderer, who he believes should be tried as an adult and given a harsher sentence if convicted.
“I’m sure Gascon has not lost one of his children to gun violence,” Tony Lopez said. “My son was taken in a drastic way. This young kid needs to be given an adult sentence and really think about what he did.
“This is the worst time for me to need the law. The system is horribly failing me,” he said.