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LA County to Consider $10,000 Reward Offer to Solve Killing of Teen

The killing of a Black teen, unlike that a White grad student whose suspected killer was captured in Pasadena, has garnered little media attention

Published on Monday, January 24, 2022 | 12:40 pm
 
Tioni Theus via Tioni Theus Facebook page

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday will consider posting a $10,000 reward for information leading to the person or people responsible for the shooting death of a 16-year-old girl whose body was found dumped alongside the Harbor (110) Freeway.

The action comes days after a group of community activists gathered and pushed for elected officials to offer a reward for information in the killing of Tioni Theus, whose body was found Jan. 8 on the side of the freeway on the West Manchester Avenue on-ramp near South Figueroa Street, in the Vermont Knolls area of Los Angeles.

Activists said the absence of a reward in the killing of the young Black girl stands in stark contrast to efforts that led to a $250,000 reward offered in the search for the killer of 24-year-old Brianna Kupfer, a Pacific Palisades resident and UCLA grad student who was fatally stabbed Jan. 13 inside a boutique furniture store in Hancock Park.

Kupfer’s alleged killer was arrested last Wednesday in Pasadena after a motorist recognized him on Green Street.

It was not immediately clear if anyone would be in line to receive a reward in that case.

Tioni had last been seen the previous day after telling a family member she was going to meet a friend to go to a party, officials said. No further information was provided, and no suspect description was available.

Supervisor Holly Mitchell introduced the motion calling for the county to establish the $10,000 reward.

“Ms. Theus lived in Compton and was a student at Centennial High School,” according to the motion. “She was reportedly living with her father as her mother recovered from a serious hit-and-run accident. Family members say she was a straight-A student and enjoyed dance and golf.

“Investigators are urging anyone with information about this incident to contact the California Highway Patrol. A reward will encourage members of the public to come forward with information that can help identify the individual(s) responsible for her death.”

Members of Tioni’s family and activists from Project Hope held a news conference Saturday calling for a reward to be offered in the case. Rashida Kincy, a cousin of Tioni, described her as a “vibrant young lady that was just cut from so much that was ahead of her.”

“This has been a tragedy to my family, to the community,” she said.

California Highway Patrol Capt. Jeff Lofton spoke at the news conference, asking anyone with information to come forward.

“If you’re from the community here and you have cameras in your vehicle and you were driving along the route, along the 110 Freeway that morning, please look at your video,” Lofton said.

“If you find something at Manchester and the 110, call investigators.”

Activists said they want the state to put up reward money in Tioni’s death.

“The CHP is conducting the criminal investigation, and California elected officials are the representatives the family must make the award request from since her body was dumped and recovered on California state property,” said Najee Ali of Project Hope.

“It’s important that Governor (Gavin) Newsom and state elected officials realize that Tioni Theus’ life mattered,” he added. “The fact that someone could shoot and kill a young woman and dump her body on the side of the freeway like she was trash is outrageous.”

A representative for the governor’s office said there is a crime tip reward program under the state’s Penal Code, but it requires law enforcement officials to submit a recommendation for a reward to the governor.

The governor then reviews the recommendation and can authorize a reward in qualifying cases.

Ali told City News Service that he’s reached out to Los Angeles City Council members Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson about a possible reward from the City Council, but they have to coordinate those efforts with state officials, mainly Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Los Angeles.

“Procedurally, the CHP is leading the investigation because the body was found on state property, so we have to work with state officials,” Ali said.

On Thursday, the CHP posted photos of Tioni on Twitter and asked for anyone with information about her killing to call the agency at 323-644-9557.

Tioni’s cousins told the Los Angeles Times the teen was good in school and enjoyed golfing, dancing and singing. But they said her life took a turn in 2019 when her mother was severely injured in a hit-and-run crash that has left her in a rehabilitation facility.

Tioni began rebelling after that, disappearing for long periods and eventually being pulled into prostitution and theft by a man she met on Instagram, the cousins told The Times.

“We’re definitely not pretending that Tioni was an angel,” cousin Nafeesah Kincy told the paper. “She faced trauma. I want to humanize her. I don’t want her to be seen as a prostitute or a runaway or somebody that people feel like `Oh, well, they live that lifestyle.’

“It’s so many young women out here being victimized and being taken advantage of physically and sexually. So, it’s my cousin today. But it could be your cousin, your daughter, your friend tomorrow,” Kincy added.

Price also called for justice in the case.

“All of Los Angeles needs to say her name. Tioni, a young Black 16- year-old, straight-A student and devoted daughter was gunned down and left on the side of the 110 freeway. The person(s) involved in her killing are heartless and need to be brought to justice,” the councilman tweeted Friday.

“I stand in solidarity with the Theus family and the African-American community demanding justice in her name so that her family and loved ones can find solace in knowing that the ones who chose to end this vibrant girl’s life will answer to their crime.”

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