The family of a 17-year-old Tacoma boy shot to death Oct. 11 is gathering signatures on a petition in the hopes Pierce County prosecutors will consider upgrading charges against the man accused of shooting him.
The two were sitting in a parked car with friends at South 43rd and G streets when one jokingly pointed his new .38-caliber revolver at the other and pulled the trigger, according to charging papers. Jalon Bea died from the gunshot wound. Tanielu Lotovaivai, 19, was arrested. He pleaded not guilty to first-degree manslaughter.
Police said Lotovaivai didn’t realize a round was in the cylinder when he fired the gun. He helped get Bea to the hospital after the shooting but then fled in fear. He turned himself in days later.
The petition started by Bea’s family on change.org had about 1,050 signatures Sunday. It asks Prosecutor Mark Lindquist to review “the questionable circumstances surrounding the allegedly accidental death of Jalon Bea” and upgrade the charge against Lotovaivai to first-degree murder.
“We want justice for Jalon,” Jackie Bea, Jalon’s mother, told The News Tribune on Sunday.
Lindquist said he was aware of the petition but believes the appropriate charge has been filed.
“We prosecute cases as vigorously and justly as we can under the law and the facts,” he said. “If facts emerge that support a different charge, we will reassess.”
Police said interviews with Lotovaivai and the others present at the time of the shooting indicate the incident was an accident.
Bea’s family and friends said they don’t believe it. They said Bea and Lotovaivai were not friends and that more investigation is needed.
“Three days is not long enough to investigate,” Kim Egge of Federal Way wrote on the online petition. “Anyone who possesses a gun knows that you never point it at someone and pull the trigger unless you are intending harm. This short ‘investigation’ is a slap in his parents’, family and friends’ face.”
Deputy Prosecutor Phil Sorensen said Lotovaivai deserved a first-degree manslaughter charge.
A murder charge requires an intentional killing, a first-degree manslaughter charge requires a reckless act, and a second-degree manslaughter charge requires a criminally negligent act, he noted.
“In this case, the investigation showed me that there were two things done on purpose,” Sorensen said. “One is that he pointed a gun and two is that he pulled the trigger on purpose. The accidental part of this is that the gun actually discharged. That’s a reckless act given that he was using a real gun that had been loaded.”
The Bea family said they also want prosecutors to charge others who were in the car with rendering criminal assistance.
“If there’s evidence that people rendered criminal assistance, we’ll take a look at that, and we clearly will charge people who help others who commit crimes or get away with committing crimes,” Sorensen said. “At this point, we don’t have an investigation that supports those charges. We may in the future, but we don’t today.”Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653
Staff writer Alexis Krell contributed to this story.